Tuesday 27 October 2015

Williams... Kalia... and kouign amann (you what?)

I'm having a love-in with pears. For decades I ignored them, then quite recently, I held a Williams to my nose, and I was smitten. I will never neglect them again. 

And what's not to love? They are at their very best now. Comice, Williams even the workaday Conference - succulent, slippery and aromatic. Gritty - say some people. Pah. Poach them or bake them and any granularity melts away. As if to make up for the lost years I've developed quite a few dishes recently. That's my new one above: a poached Williams with blueberries, a nutty, oaty crumble and vanilla mascarpone. You could almost eat it for breakfast.

Peel and poach your pear for just ten minutes in a syrup made 2:1 sugar to water. You can add aromatics of your choice: juniper berries, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves. I also had some Mexican vanilla pods that I'd been looking for an excuse to use. No. That's a lie. I bought them a while ago, slid them into the wrong drawer and forgot them. Mexican vanilla is the original. The beans were stolen to be cultivated in Madasagascar where the bulk of the crop now grows. The American variety is meant to be different, better... but it's a subtle distinction, certainly lost in a syrup.

The crumble is simple, more like a granola really:

In a bowl, combine: 50g of rolled oats, 25g of bran (breakfast stuff is dandy) 40g of malted flour (plain will do), 50g of crunched up hazelnuts and pecan (or any nut), big pinch of salt and 50g of caster sugar. Mix well. You could add spices or zest at this stage. Perhaps ginger, cinammon or cloves for a fruit topping. Pour over 70g of melted, unsalted butter and mix in. Blend to a paste consistency. You might not need all the butter - but that's no reason not to chuck it all in.

I used a mix of hazelnuts and pecans but almonds, walnuts or pistachios would work too. Better if you toast your nuts first. About ten minutes at 180°C. But check! Don't let them char.

Spread the mix thickly onto baking parchment/silicon and bake at 180°C for about 10 - 15 minutes. Longer = more colour = more flavour = more brittle.

For the cream, just whip a little double cream to soft peaks and fold in about double the volume of mascarpone. Add in a little icing sugar and vanilla paste to serve.

The pear below is the dessert I served to Kalia and her book club this weekend. Poached Williams pear with creme fraiche ice cream, crystallised almonds and a langue de chat biscuit. The orange dust is just that: orange. It's some zest that I dried and powered. Adds a citrus tang when needed.

The line up was their idea. Kalia and Dawn, her Mum, at the front.

So that's the pears and Kalia. What's this kouign amann about? It's a Breton butter cake that's pronounced kween aman. (The Breton language is still spoken and is related to Cornish and Welsh.) Kouign amann have been taking New York by storm. I noticed them when they were featured in the SeriousEats site. Never heard of them? Think of a very rich croissant that's been squished and baked with sugar that caramelizes. It's light, crispy  chewy, very rich and delicious... and a sod to make. Of course it is. It's a yeasty, laminated dough (think the mother of all puff) that you have to roll out like a big, thin flag on a bed of sugar. I was hoping to feature the recipe but my first attempt went wrong. Firstly I used caster sugar instead of granulated and I over baked the things anyway. They were still delicious.

Give me a few weeks and I hope I'll have something much more accomplished to present.

A tricky, sticky dough to roll out and cut into squares...

That are folded up and baked

Kouign amann - first attempt. A little heavy, a little overdone.