Tea makes a lovely poaching liquid for fresh or dried fruit. It provides a potpourri of flavor options, including the warm, aromatic spiciness of chai, the heady floral essence of jasmine and the smoky intensity of Lapsang souchong, to name a few. The tannic acidity of tea – black, white or green – also adds a flavonoid-rich, sweet-balancing complexity to fruit dishes. And you reap all that for the little effort it takes to brew some.
In this recipe, Earl Grey tea, with its citrusy floral notes and black-tea depth of flavor, is used as the poaching liquid for sweet, firm ripe pears. The tea is brewed for five minutes (much longer than that and you wind up with too much bitterness) then spiked hot toddy-style with honey and a splash of brandy.
The pears are poached whole, so they have a commanding presence on the plate, but that means you have to turn them a few times in the pot so they cook evenly. After about 20 minutes, they are transferred to a dish; the poaching liquid, now rounded with the fruit's juices, is simmered until it becomes a luscious syrup. That quick step evaporates the majority of the alcohol, so another boost of brandy is added at the end.
With some time to chill in the refrigerator, the flavors meld and mellow, the syrup thickens further, and an elegant dessert awaits.
Earl Grey Tea and Brandy Poached Pears
2 1/2 cups water
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1/3 cup honey
4 whole cloves
4 tablespoons brandy
4 medium firm-ripe pears
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, then remove from the heat, add the tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Discard the tea bags. Add the honey, cloves and 3 tablespoons of the brandy; return to a boil over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, peel the pears, leaving them whole, with their stems intact if possible. Slice 1/2 inch off the bottom of each pear so they will stand upright.
Lay the pears on their sides in the poaching liquid in the saucepan; return to a gentle boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes (until just tender), turning the pears two or three times as they cook, until they have softened yet still retain their shape. Use tongs and a slotted spoon to transfer the pears to a serving or storage dish, standing upright.
Discard or strain out the cloves in the poaching liquid. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to about 1/2 cup of a thin syrup.
Remove from the heat; stir the remaining tablespoon of brandy. Pour the brandied syrup over the fruit. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.
Serve chilled, with the syrup.
Per serving: 240 calories, 0 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 42 g sugar
Yield: 4 servings.