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    Peppered Pears on Sweet Pastry

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    Peppered Pears on Sweet Pastry

    WFI’s new columnist and pastry expert finds that a heady hit of spice and heat lifts the elegant plainness of poached fruit into the realms of true pudding glory.

    • Preparation time: 50 minutes, plus 1 hour 30 minutes chilling
    • Cooking time: 25 minutes

    Serves: 6


    • Mascarpone cream
    • 250 g mascarpone
    • ½ vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out
    • 2-3 tbsp icing sugar, to taste
    • Pastry
    • 100 g butter
    • 100 g caster sugar
    • 1 small egg
    • ½ vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out
    • ¼ tsp salt
    • 220 g plain flour
    • Poached pears
    • 750 ml madeira
    • 150 g light soft brown sugar
    • 2 star anise
    • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 orange, pared zest and juice
    • 6 medium pears, slightly under-ripe


    1. Prepare the liquor - Put the madeira, sugar, star anise, pepper, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, orange zest and juice into a large pan. Bring the mixture to the boil for a couple of minutes to cook off the alcohol. Meanwhile, peel, halve and core the pears. Leave the stems intact – they will contribute to the prettiness of the presentation.
    2. Poach the pears - Turn the heat down so the liquid is just simmering. Put the pears in the liquid and poach for around 10 minutes or until the pears are soft and a knife inserted into the thickest part glides through easily. Be careful not to overcook them, otherwise they will just disintegrate in the liquid. Remove from the heat and leave the fruit to cool in the poaching liquor; you can leave them for up to 48 hours to allow the flavours to penetrate.
    3. Make the pastry - Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and vanilla. This can be done manually or in a food processor. Beat well. If the mixture seems curdled, add a spoonful of flour and mix. Add the rest of the flour as you beat and, when combined, form the dough into a ball and wrap in clingfilm. Squash it flat and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
    4. Cut out the bases - When the dough is nice and firm, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and roll it out to about 3mm thick. If the dough seems to be getting too sticky, pop it in the fridge to harden a bit more. Cut out 12 rectangles (about 10cm x 5cm each) with a sharp knife and place on a lined baking tray. This can be quite fiddly, but using a palette knife to move the rectangles around makes the job much easier.
    5. Use up any extra - If there is any dough left over, you can cut circles out with a biscuit cutter and bake them for treats. Alternatively, it can be frozen. Put the tray in the fridge and turn the oven on to 180C/gas 4. Chill the bases for 30 minutes until they are firm. Bake on the middle shelf for 8–10 minutes, or until just turning golden, then place on a baking tray to cool.
    6. Dish up - Put the Mascarpone in a bowl and mix to loosen slightly. Add the vanilla seeds and icing sugar to taste. To serve, slice each pear-half at regular intervals along the length, and place on a biscuit. Serve two per person and top with some Mascarpone cream.

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