This elegant, seasonal dessert will be the perfect ending to your Thanksgiving Day feast. Flaky puff pastry cases hold pockets of white wine-caramel pastry cream, and a fork tender poached pear rests on top of each puff.
I’m always an advocate for individual desserts, mostly because I enjoy having a mini cake or pie all to myself. Something about it feels special, like a bit more thought and effort went into composing the end result on my plate. These pear puffs may look like they took a lot of effort, but they didn’t!
Believe it or not, this recipe came to me in a dream. This happens occasionally. I will bake all night in my sleep and wake up (tired) with a new recipe that I need to get out of my brain and into real life. This one has three parts, but each is a simple fix. All the components can be made ahead and assembled before serving.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you may know how much I love poaching pears, not to mention wrapping them in puff pastry (see this recipe from waaaay back!). I mean, what’s better than warming yourself by a simmering pot of spices on a chilly autumn day? I’ll tell you what – having a delicious dessert at the end!
One thing I’ve learned is that most any kind of wine added to the poaching liquid will greatly change the character of the fruit. It’s not really boozy because most of the alcohol is simmered out as the pears poach; but it’s the subtleties of the wine that shine through after the fruit is rested and cooled. You can use just about any white wine, but a simple, inexpensive bottle of Italian white wine that tips to the sweet side (spumante) is more than adequate.
Puff pastry shells are so easy to make using ready-made frozen pastry and cookie cutters. A few brands make the shells already cut out and ready to bake – but for this project those are too small. Making these larger cases is easy, and if you don’t have the right size cookie cutters, you could use a small bowl’s rim and a paring knife to trim around it, and a juice bottle lid (or similar item) to cut the centers.
After the shells are baked and the middles removed, they are filled with delicious white wine-caramel pastry cream. I altered the recipe from these champagne cupcakes I made ages ago. This recipe has always served me well (it’s almost committed to memory!) and this time I added dulce de leche just before I finished it with a little butter. Heaven!
Serve them with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top and a single mint leaf at each pear stem.
Overall, the three components balance each other so well. There’s the lovely unsweet flaky pastry, the creamy sweet filling, and just a touch of tartness from the pear. Serve with a dessert fork and a fruit knife for easy dining.
Each element can be made ahead. Bake the pastry cases and keep them in an airtight container. Make the pastry cream and store in the refrigerator, and poach the pears, which can be kept in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to four days!
Poached Pear Vol au Vents
White wine-caramel pastry cream
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup 120 ml heavy cream, divided
- 1/2 cup 120 ml sparkling white wine (recommend spumante)
- 5 tablespoons 65g granulated sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup 3 oz. dulce de leche
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 small firm but ripe pears
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup 200g sugar
- 1 bottle 750 ml white wine (or remaining spumante from pastry cream)
- 2 cups 480 ml water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Zest of 1 lemon
Puff pastry cases
- 3 sheets 1 1/2 boxes puff pastry, thawed
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Beat the whole egg and egg yolks into the cornstarch/heavy cream mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling wine mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so the eggs do not cook. Return the remaining champagne/heavy cream mixture to a boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens considerably. Remove from heat and add the dulce de leche; stir until melted and smooth. Add the butter and stir until completely melted. Let cool and cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic touches the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a skin developing on top.
- Peel the pears using a small paring knife, keeping the stems intact. Brush the pears with lemon juice so they don’t brown.
- In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, wine, water, cinnamon sticks, and lemon zest. Place over medium high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved; increase heat and bring to a boil.
- Add the pears to the liquid and simmer until fork-tender, usually about 20 minutes, but more time will be required for very firm pears. Remove pears to a wire rack or a plate to cool.
Puff Pastry Cases
- On a work surface, lightly roll a puff pastry sheet with a rolling pin until the creases in the dough are flattened. Cut five 3.5-inch circles out of the dough using a cookie cutter. Repeat the process with a second puff pastry sheet. From the last sheet of puff pastry, cut two circles. You should now have twelve 3.5-inch puff pastry circles.
- Transfer six circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter (or bottle cap) cut a circle into the centers of the remaining 6 puff pastry circles, but do not remove the cut out centers.
- Beat the egg and water together in a small bowl. Brush the pastry circles on the parchment-lined baking sheet with the egg wash and top each with the circles with the cut centers. Chill in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Bake the pastries for 10-12 minutes, or until they are golden and well-puffed. Please note that some of the pastry cases may puff out of shape accordion-style. If this happens, set them upright and lightly press the case back into shape while the pastry is still hot. Gently dig out/lift out their round centers using a fork (you can serve this piece of pastry on the side, or just eat it!). Let cool completely before filling.
- 6 mint leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Just before serving, place the puff pastry shells on a serving tray. Fill each pastry with the pastry cream to the top; rest a single poached pear on top of each pastry over the cream. Using a small paring knife, make a slit to one side of the top stem and insert a mint leaf in the opening. Sprinkle a pinch of ground cinnamon over each pear and serve immediately.