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So warm, so fragrant

Oh November, November, November.

What on earth am I supposed to do with you? You’re so confusing. I don’t know whether to cheer for you (Thanksgiving! Fuzzy slippers! Hot cider with cognac!) or hide under the bed (Chapped lips! Sunset at 4:46 pm! So! Much! Work! To! Do!). November, you’re a mess. You’re even worse than Brandon’s closet. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Oh, people. Can it be true? Is it really November 5? Only 17 days before Thanksgiving? And did I really see that terrible ad for Lowe’s last night, the Christmas one with the giant snow globe and the dancing holiday turkey? (Also, did I really admit, by saying that just now, that despite our having proudly “given up” television last year, Brandon and I still pull the old box out of the closet every now and then, and that even though we canceled our cable plan, we found that you can use the old cable cord as an antenna, jiggling it and posing it just so until the picture is passably clear, except that it means you have to tiptoe back to the couch very, very carefully, or else you’ll disturb the whole precarious arrangement?) It can’t be possible.

I love November. It’s my mother’s birth month, so I really owe it quite a lot. I just don’t like what it means: the (almost) end of the year, the end of warmth (at least until spring), the end of daylight savings time, the inevitable ramp-up to all-out holiday craziness. I get tired just thinking about it. I need an eye pillow.

No, wait. Scratch that. You can’t get away with an eye pillow unless you’re a) Joan Collins, or b) on an overseas flight, and even then, it’s questionable. I’d rather have a roasted pear. They’re warm, for one thing, scented with vanilla bean and lemon. And with the way their little backs curve, it seems to me that they would fit perfectly, rounded side down, in the hollow of each eye. Doesn’t that sound nice? So warm, so fragrant, so soothing. They may be the best part of November, until Thanksgiving anyway.

I really could go on and on about these pears, and if my schedule this week weren’t giving me the shakes, I might. It’s a method I first heard about a few weeks ago, when Brandon and I were listening to The Splendid Table one Sunday over lunch. By the way, if you don’t listen to the show already, you really should consider it. Lynne Rossetto Kasper, its host, is so lovely. She’s quite contagious, in the best possible way. She has a wonderful voice - the kind fairy tales should be read in, I’ve always thought - and when she starts laughing, she sort of cackles and wheezes. I love her. I want to invite her to dinner. Anyway, on October 13, I think it was, she had Sally Schneider, author of A New Way to Cook and The Improvisational Cook, on the show. The two of them were talking and cackling and oohing and aahing about Sally’s recipe for roasted pears. It’s simple as can be: she just halves them, tosses them with sugar, butter, and vanilla bean, and then bakes them until they’re caramelized. My favorite part was when Sally told Lynne - with a slightly conspiratorial air - that a few nights earlier, she’d made a double batch for a dinner party, and one of her guests ate almost all of them straight from the pan before the meal was even served.

Having now made them, I can understand why. Pears are plenty fine on their own, but oh my, roasted pears are even finer. The dry heat of the oven intensifies their flavor, for one thing, and with a sticky, see-through sheath of vanilla sugar to boot - not to mention butter, ah butter - they almost make November worth the trouble. Almost.

Roasted Pears
Adapted from A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider

This recipe could be tweaked any number of ways. Roasted pears are just the beginning, really. Some thoughts and suggestions:

1. Try this method with other fruits. Think plums, apricots, peaches, apples, pineapples, strawberries(!), bananas(!), and even mangoes. Whatever fruit you use, it should be peeled (if there’s tough skin involved) and pitted (if it’s a stone fruit) and either halved or sliced ½ to ¾ inch thick. Softer fruits, or sliced fruits, will take much less time than harder or halved ones.

2. Sugar-wise, play around. You’ll see that the recipe below makes one cup of vanilla sugar, but you’ll only need a fraction of it. See what tastes right to you. I used ¼ cup, and it seemed about right. Whatever you do, you’ll have sugar left over, which just means that you’ll have to roast more fruit –
darn! – or use it in another dessert. You could also try using honey or maple syrup in place of the sugar, but it would be a little harder to work the vanilla in.

3. Sally Schneider uses only two teaspoons of butter, which seems downright stingy to me, so I used two tablespoons. Watch out, Sally. You never know what I’ll do next.

4. I like the purity of using only vanilla bean here, but if you want a little added complexity, try dusting your pears with a pinch of cinnamon. Or maybe some cardamom, with roasted apricots. Or fresh thyme leaves with plums.

5. Cooked this way, pears get nice and tender, but they hold their shape and stay somewhat firm. They’re soft, but depending on their ripeness, they might not be
quite as yielding as you’d hope. That’s my only beef with them: I want them to slump. If you’d like yours a little more tender, I’d suggest trying a couple of things: put more water in the pan to start with - maybe 1/3 cup - and/or try covering the pan with aluminum foil for some of the baking time.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 medium ripe pears (about 1 ½ lb.), preferably Comice or Bartlett
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the bowl of sugar. Using your fingers, rub the seeds into the sugar until evenly dispersed. (Discard the spent pod, or bury it in a canister of sugar – soon it’ll have a wonderful fragrance, and you can use it in most any recipe – or use it to make vanilla extract.)

Peel the pears and halve them lengthwise. Core them, if you like. (I didn’t bother, but it would make them easier to eat. Whichever you choose, leave the stems intact. They make for a pretty presentation.) Place them cut side up in a large baking dish and drizzle them with the lemon juice. Dust liberally with some of the vanilla sugar. (I used ¼ cup.) Dot with butter. Add 2 tablespoons water to the dish.

Slide the dish into the oven, and bake the pears, basting every ten minutes with the pan juices and turning them once or twice, for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until they are glazed, cooked through, and very tender. The syrup in the dish will thicken and darken as it cooks, but if it evaporates too quickly – before the pears are ready – add a tablespoon or two more water to the dish. (I added 2 tablespoons at the 30-minute mark and another 2 at 40 minutes, stirring them into the caramelly pan juices with my basting brush.)

Serve warm, with ice cream, crème fraîche, or a glug of cream.

Note: I could also imagine serving these as a savory side dish to roasted pork or game, if you used some interesting spices and a light hand with the sugar.

Yield: 4 servings


Anonymous Leah said...

Gorgeous! As always.

And I'm with you. This November is more nuts than usual, flying by faster than any November I can remember in recent history. I can't think of any way better to enjoy it than with pears. And of course, butter.

Plus celery root.

Maybe some cheese.

Oh hell with it, break out the wine.


4:20 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Jules said...

This has me practically drooling!

House of Jules

4:26 PM, November 05, 2007  
Anonymous Alicia A. said...

Well, this recipe will be helping my November out a little... my sweet husband's birthday is tomorrow and he'll now be dining on a roasted chicken and BAKED PEARS. Thank you!

4:28 PM, November 05, 2007  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

YUM! how on EARTH do you keep that pan so sparkling clean? (seriously...)

4:32 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger shari said...

oh yeah. these look fabulous. which reminds me, it's about time i made my pear bread this year! i hear you on the bunny ears, too. we have the same problem. xox

4:32 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Lyrically speaking said...

Beautiful post...and yes November is really here, feels like a cold dream, lol. Love your blog!!

5:21 PM, November 05, 2007  
Anonymous Caroline said...

I think you can get away with a lavendar eye pillow under the guise of a "yoga" or "meditation" moment.

The pears look wonderful and your photos here so clean and pretty.

5:25 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Steph said...

I love this post.
You have such a gift with words!

5:27 PM, November 05, 2007  
Anonymous katie said...

Long-time reader, first time commenter here. This looks amazing, Molly. Can't wait to try it!!

I made your winning-hearts-and-minds cake tonight for the first time. I was so excited. Too bad I *doubled* the butter, and it was completely inedible. Sadness. I'm still missing it. (I also made the butternut/cider/pear/vanilla soup, which went much better for me.) Boy that cake looked sad. So very sad.

6:39 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger mamster said...

Molly, this is hilarious. I have some seckel pears waiting to be made into this exact thing (which I also heard about on The Splendid Table) later this week. Of course, Iris got into the pears and set up four seckels next to two big comices and said they were the pear family.

8:07 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Mal said...

I heard this episode a couple weeks ago while driving home from Minnesota to Iowa, and I stopped at grocery store at the end of the five hour drive before I had even been home so that I could pick up some pears. They were in the oven before I had even unpacked my suitcase, and they were fantastic. I had a few left over (can't imagine how that happened) and the next day I reheated them, mashed them, and put them inside crepes. Yum.

8:21 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger jcybill said...

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I can't wait to make your cranberry chutney again. Yum yum yum. You should definitely do a shout out to it again... a gentle reminder of its greatness!

8:24 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger e.b. said...

at the Whole Foods near me in law school they always sold roasted pears at this time of year. it was a treat for the longer days and the extended time spent studying for finals. they were so pretty and dainty sitting in the display case and such a good thing to look forward to. this all brings it back.

8:26 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Laura said...

I heard SS and LRC cackling, too...and as I cook for people, and had roasted some pears for their salad the very week before, I got hopping mad that I hadn't thought of the vanilla bean. But then, I planned an apple cider-fig vinaigrette for another meal for them...and lo, no one had figs, so I subsituted these roasted pears, pureeing them into the vinaigrette (though it seems a bit of a shame). Terrific.

8:35 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Keith said...

I can't believe you beat me to this. I've been dying to roast pears ever since i heard it on the radio. I've often dreamed about having Lynn over for dinner and then panicked what it would actually be like. I’ve fantasized that she would be a great aunt teaching me the subtle techniques of coring apples with dull French pairing knives. Or she would stop by and I’d just duck into the pantry and whip up some great dish from Y2K survival kit and some fresh herbs from the garden. But no.

You’re right November is packed full, and packed full of food requirements . At this point I have just one goal for November and that’s Duck Confit.

11:12 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Village Vegan said...

I love roasted pears! Yours look so yummy.

I know November is crazy, but actually I'm kind of looking forward to Thanksgiving cooking...I've been thinking about what I'm going to be making for months! Of course, this probably has something to do with the fact that I'll only be cooking for 2, at most 3.

5:13 AM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Mindy said...

Molly- Ah yes-Roasted Pears- Not yet tried- but in the recipe docket-

And do you know that The The Splendid Table Has a weekly e-mail newsletter that you can get?

Great Recipes! (And they've been cluttering up my e-mail for quite a while- but, no, it ain't clutter!- I mean, Butter-rubbed salmon with Blueberry sauce?(-moan-) This I must try....

5:25 AM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Katie said...

ahhhhh, I must try these tonight, though I need to toast the pumpkin seeds as well. They came out of the pumpkin in October, and it is, indeed already November.
I love Orangette

5:34 AM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous Ann said...

Oh. Yum.

So simple. So beautiful. So needing to be made.

5:59 AM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger EH said...

Given your husband's well documented fondness for vinegars, might I suggest roasted pear chutney? Epicurious has a decent (and readily modifiable) recipe. So. Good. Especially rolled into the center of some cream cheese, studded with candied pecans. Fussy? Yes... but so good.

6:38 AM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger adele said...

Mmm. It's rainy and dreary in Boston today, and these sound like they'd be particularly delicious with the ginger cake I read about on The Traveler's Lunchbox a few days ago.

6:41 AM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous Dana said...

It's true, November is always jammed (elections! daylight savings! college football! Thanksgiving! Sometimes Chanukah!). But these pears are just the thing to return one to a more Zen-like state. I like mine warm with a little vanilla ice cream. Ohmmm...

8:25 AM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

Roasted pears...baked apples...grilled watermelon (I know, not in season)...oh how we cook up our fruit!

I hear ya on the November thoughts. I usually spend the entire month looking forward to Thanksgiving, but actually, this year we did Thanksgiving early...as in, we already celebrated it this past Sunday (gasp!) My brother is moving out to Seattle (yay Seattle) for a job (he leaves next week), so my mom wanted the whole family to be together so we celebrated early. Hurrah, but now I have nothing about November to look forward to...

8:36 AM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous Farah said...

My whole week is made so much better by the Splendid Table. I love it!

8:43 AM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous EB said...

I LOVE The Splendid Table! I listen to the podcast on my way to work on Monday mornings. It makes my week start all that much better. While I have to say the pear recipe sounds amazing and you make it look fantastic.... this week... the discussion of "Crunk Fish" had me laughing so hard on the train that I got the 'uh-oh crazy girl' looks. Man I love Lynn. Her laugh is one of the most sincere things I've ever heard. Anyways... you really did those pears justice!

8:59 AM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Carolyn said...

The pears look so delicious! I can't wait to try that, and thanks for directing me to The Splendid Table.

10:01 AM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous myriam said...

Waouh! I love this kind of deserts. so simple, so delicious... I discovered your blog only a couple of weeks ago and I'm already addicted! Your writing is as delicious as your cooking. Thanks for the good reads.

2:08 PM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger tannaz said...

you should try this with rosemary one of these days. i made a pear and rosemary spoon sweet last week and the combination is november-licious!

2:58 PM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger charlotte s said...

oh november! what a beautiful, beautiful post! the onset of cold weather does send me into the kitchen more often, searching for something warm and comforting..... wishing you a warm and beautiful november! and thank you, so very much, for your gorgeous writing....

3:21 PM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Austen said...

I've got these in the oven right now and they smell delicious. It was a dreary, windy, cold day, but with baked pears in the offing things are really looking up! Thanks for saving my Tuesday. (And for the introduction the The Splendid Table.)

5:53 PM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Goddess Findings...jewels for the spirit said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Your blog is gorgeous, your writing is gorgeous, your pears are gorgeous.

Oh, the gorgeousness of it all!

There is life after academia.
With these pears, it seems I can march more bravely into November.

Thank you for all the beauty you add to the world, you're one of my new favorites!

7:44 PM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Thea said...

Oh! I love pears, and Sally Schneider, and this post.

Also, I love eye pillows, I really do. They make me feel ridiculous and extravagant, even while I'm sleeping.

8:44 PM, November 06, 2007  
Blogger Yooli said...

Darn it Molly...Leave it to you to always write what I'm feeling. November is such a wonderful and dreary month all at the same time. I even baked my first pumpkin pie of the season today. Oh, and it seems like you're popping up everywhere these days because I just made those cocoa cookies this weekend for a friend AND I mentioned you twice on my blog recently. Once, because I came upon a recipe so simple I thought it might be silly (and it had to do with sausages). Another, because I had those tomatoes with tapenade (and they were fantabulous). Thanks for the recipe! I have a pear and one vanilla bean lurking around that I think I will have to roast (and eat over some locally made frozen custard!) Next time you're in Washington, DC I'll treat you to some Dairy Godmother custard!

8:48 PM, November 06, 2007  
Anonymous Liza said...

Love your blog, looking forward to making these pears...

I also thought you would be interested to read about my discoveries when baking your Chewy Cocoa Cookies.

7:45 AM, November 07, 2007  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

Ok, I also heard Lynn and Co. discussing the wonder of these pears and was aching to make them....and then, between work and grad school, I kind of forgot :( Imagine my joy when I read your eloquent and apt post, to be reminded of them! They will be featured on Thanksgiving, for sure. I understand your feelings for November. Today is the 1st TRULY chilly day we've had in DC this season, and I have SUCH mixed feelings about it! The foliage is beautiful, though. Cheers!

8:19 AM, November 07, 2007  
Anonymous VegeYum said...

I love pears and I love roasted fruit, so this sounds delicious. Try plums too, they are great. And strawberries, surprisingly. A great inspiring post.

9:36 AM, November 07, 2007  
Blogger Lael said...

How funny, Molly, that you reverberated the very November thoughts running through my head yesterday! I was blogging away in my head (a recent habit of mine): "Oh you fickle November..."
Thank you for your beautiful blog. I absolutely love it.

6:52 PM, November 07, 2007  
Blogger claudia said...

thanks for the inspiration. mine came out great. but your post compared to mine? no comparison. i didn't even try to top your eloquence. these pears were truly wonderful in every way.

9:06 PM, November 07, 2007  
Anonymous Amy said...

Molly, one word: Quince. They'd probably take a good bit more water than pears, but that's a small price to pay. Yum. Plus! Pretty and red when baked to the point of caramelization.

10:24 PM, November 07, 2007  
Blogger Julie said...

Yes, I love the Splendid Table! I've been cooking with (and just eating plain) pears a lot in the past few weeks. I use them in my favorite stuffing recipe with chestnuts and cranberries. I love the vanilla sugar here, and it's something I've never done...indefensible:)

8:09 AM, November 08, 2007  
Blogger UmberDove said...

One of my *guilty* Brad-is-out-of-town desserts is a whole mess of figs, done up just like this. I eat a light salad for dinner (gotta balance those calories) and then half a dozen figs with half a bottle of red wine. Throw in some design mags, and its a fabulous night.

Ahh, sigh,
You always remind me of the BEST foods!

4:46 PM, November 08, 2007  
Blogger Kate Hill said...

The Victorians called November the Black month; so to ward off the coming darkness, I started the month with a weekend party. A friend made a pear sorbet that would have been great with your roasted pears but the little piggies ate it all! Thanks for putting my birthday month, too, on the blog map.

5:01 PM, November 08, 2007  
Blogger Cakespy said...

I always love reading your posts. What a gorgeous way to prepare pears! Speaking of which...have you been to Macrina lately? They have a mini ginger coffee cake topped with pear this time of year...truly, truly swoon-worthy.

5:53 PM, November 08, 2007  
Blogger jbeach said...

I'm going to make these tonight. Sounds perfect right now with the days remaining chilly...
As for food podcasts, do you ever listen to KCRW's Good Food? I live on the East Coast and I still listen to it every week, even thought much of it is L.A.-(or at least CA-)based. The program is fantastic! I haven't listened to Splendid Table much, but I can't wait to start!

6:41 AM, November 09, 2007  
Anonymous Austin said...

Also featured on Apartment Therapy:


Everyone is baking pears a la Molly. So cool.

9:59 AM, November 09, 2007  
Blogger Katia said...

Absolutely lovely!
I usually roast them with maple syrup, but adding lemon just sounds delightful. I just found your blog, and I love it- thank you for sharing.

7:08 PM, November 09, 2007  
Blogger Victoria said...

Since I usually have vanilla sugar in the house, these pears were a snap to make and amazingly delicious. I used Bosc pears, and they were fine. I did core them and also sliced a tiny bit off the back side of each half so it sat flat in the pan. That way the butter didn't run out but pooled in the little hole made by coring. I served them with vanilla ice cream. Everyone LOVED them, and I am going to make them regularly during the winter. Oh, for the person wondering about clean-up, I put foil in the bottom of the baking dish, which was a good idea because these really caramelize, and the foil did not hinder the basting at all. Molly, I really owe you for this one.

10:52 AM, November 11, 2007  
Blogger Miriam said...

We made this pears yesterday and they were delicious. Actually I wiped the backing dish clean with my finger, licking the syrup, yummie...
We used white wine instead of water but I also can imagine sherry or dry vermouth. I'm pretty sure, that I will play around with this.

2:04 PM, November 11, 2007  
Anonymous Alice Peapods said...

I made this recipe this evening and it was great, thanks!

2:56 PM, November 11, 2007  
Blogger KayKat said...

I've always been a fan of pears poached in red wine. This looks like a fantastic variation!

11:18 PM, November 11, 2007  
Blogger ParisBreakfasts said...

I'm running out to get some PEARS to bake today! TANKS
Barbara Kafka has an easy one for 6 poached pears. You just scoop out the innards and stick some cinnamon, cloves inside + lemon juice and lemon/orange zest on the outside of the peeled pear.
In 8 minutes= et voila! The pear's veryown sugar sweetens this dish.

6:54 AM, November 12, 2007  
Anonymous mycookinghut said...

Looks wonderful!

11:12 AM, November 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

made 'em. THREE times. devastating.

6:12 AM, November 14, 2007  
Anonymous VegeYum @ A Life (Time) of Cooking said...

Yum. Love baking fruit - apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, strawberries. Your pears look heavenly.

3:54 AM, November 16, 2007  
Blogger Meike said...

Thank you for this excellent recipe. I tried it today and served it with chocolate mousse. It was the best combination ever!! I think this will be my favorite pear recipe from now on!

9:49 AM, November 18, 2007  
Blogger Disillusioned Fox said...

Simply amazing. Not only is it tasty, but my whole house smells simply wonderful!

8:43 PM, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Mary Coleman said...

These were the hit of our Thanksgiving dinner last night. My husband made them and they brought down the house. Applause and people in the kitchen crowding around the pans scraping the bottom in hopes to get a bit more of that wonderful syrup.
And November is my favorite month as well.
Mary Coleman

7:48 AM, November 23, 2007  
Blogger sk said...

I love your white-on-white pear shot (the pre-cooked one) - such a lovely composition - the beauty of the everyday!
-S from Cookbook Catchall (www.cookbookcatchall.blogspot.com)

4:09 PM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger Opal said...

hmm...I've come down with a nasty cold and have been indulging in reruns of the splendid table podcasts. Nothing like Lynn's voice to make me feel better. Came across her, Sally and the pears. They are in the oven as I type this, but Sally's recipe didn't specify a time, so I googled. Found you, orangette. Thanks :)

7:51 PM, March 11, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

These were AMAZING. Thanks Molly!

5:54 PM, May 18, 2014  

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