I’m subtitling this post: I’m Not Pear-fect. So sue me.
In a recent, not-regular-enough review of the contents of my freezer, I discovered six white-wine-poached pears, with some poaching liquid included. I think I remember making these as a back-up dessert for a dinner party a few months ago, but as I recall Plan A didn’t fail, so I was stuck with a mess of leftover pears. Worse things could happen, right?
The discovery coincided with growing yen to try making pâte de fruits, those intensely fruity, French jellied candies that are like the high-falutin’ cousin of a jelly fruit slice. Since pâte de fruits consist only of fruit purée (or juice), sugar, and pectin, I figured it’d be a confectionary slam dunk. I even fantasized about friends swooning on first bites, lavishing praise on me for the purity of the candy’s fruit flavor and my extreme resourcefulness in turning sad frozen poached pears into such a delightfully sweet nibble.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
Puréed pears, poaching liquid, sugar, and pectin went into a pot (I used roughly a 1:1 ratio of fruit to granulated sugar, in this case, about 1000 grams of each; 100 grams of liquid pectin; and because I like things on the tart side, about 30 grams of citric acid) and I attempted to bring the mixture up to 220° F for 3-5 minutes. At about 210° F, the stuff looked like pear-ish lava and at 220° (which took FOREVER), it became magma (say that with your best Dr. Evil accent, please). MAG-MA. Let me tell you: you haven’t lived until you’ve had pear magma splat you in the face a dozen or so times.
Pour that ooze into a tin, let it set up, cut into perfect squares, roll in sugar, and voilà, right?
Hardly. Apparently my idea of boiling FOREVER at 220° was somewhere under 3-5 minutes, which is required to convert molten magma ooze to solid candy. Less that that leaves you with just cool ooze. Lesson learned.
Not to be defeated by a lousy batch of leftover pears, I boiled it again. I even talked a bit of trash to it once it reached 200°. I may or may not have called it my bitch.
OK: so it finally worked. And the pâte de fruits were delicious and tasted intensely of pear. The spousal unit (“SU” or “Unit”) deemed it, “Like, the best gumdrop ever.” Ostensibly, a success. But, man: I made a ton of that stuff. Even after foisting tins of candy off on anyone whom I thought might be remotely interested (or, at least, too polite to refuse), I still had an obscene amount of the uncut, unsugared candy left over. It vaguely reminded me of membrillo, the quince paste often served with cheese in Spain, so I thought it might work in a grilled cheese. I consulted the lovely and authoritative-in-all-things-cheesy Katie McManus, and after careful deliberation, she suggested a sharp cheddar.
I admit, the grilled cheese concept excited me much more than the candy. I used a sharp raw milk cheddar from Brookford Farm that I procured on a day trip to New Hampshire to see the fantastic Molly Connors and her adorable cat (my god-cat) Abigail; well-buttered Seven Stars multi-grain bread; smoky bacon; and a slice or two of the membrill-faux (sorry, couldn’t resist). My first bite was heaven. I loved the interplay of sweet, salty, smoky, and fatty. I prepared myself for accolades from the Unit.
Friends, he HATED it. Hated it in that way where he actually opened up the sandwich, scraped off the membill-faux, and plopped the mass in a sad heap on the side of his plate. Hated it in that way where he turns to me with incredulity and whines, “Why did you put candy in my sandwich?” Hated in that way where he—a declared opponent of soup that is (a) smooth or (b) remotely exotic—ate his bowl of Thai red curry butternut squash soup first…and then went back for more. After dinner he popped himself an obscenely large bowl of popcorn, dousing it with olive oil and salt to assuage his lingering hunger.
He hated it.
The saving grace of the meal was this amazing wine, a gift from Heidi and Ben Sukle. Heidi and Ben know how I gravitate toward flinty, acidic, and mineral-driven white wines. This one? HOLY COW! I love a Fiano; the grape is from Campania and very often it exhibits honey, nutty, and spicy overtones with bracing minerality. And, since these wines are often aged on the lees, they carry some weight, but aren’t ponderous the way so many oak aged wines can be.
This wine, though, was a revelation. I have never experienced a Fiano as complex, smoky, and, indeed, savory as this bottle. Heidi and Ben are pouring this wine now at birch. Get yourself there and experience it before I drink all of it.
This isn’t the first time in my life I have said, “Thank God for the wine,” and it certainly won’t be the last, but this bottle made the angels sing and helped to wash away the shame of the offending sandwich.
I often tell my cyclists that we need to work hard and fail spectacularly; that failure is the most important part of the process of improving. All in all, I found at least two new ways to fail in this endeavor, which has got to count for something, right?
Other important parts of the process are recognizing grace when it smacks you in the face (or in the wine glass, as the case may be) and being grateful for the influence of talented and generous friends. So: thank you Heidi, Ben, Katie, and Molly for inspiration and example!
Signing off with an ode to improvement, by the quirkily awesome Jack Antonoff.