The other day a smell permeated the house that was as comforting as slippers – the ones that are covered with wool then open up to a textured faux fur that tries to replicate the impossibly soft covering of a baby lamb. It was as fragrant as Lillies and so completely intoxicating I had a hard time concentrating on the task at hand.

I was poaching pears.


My nose was never more than six inches from the pot as I let the floral steam wash over my face like the most exhilarating spa treatment. My mind raced with ideas on how to use these pears daily  during this chilled season where their presence is simply perfect.

As I dreamed I dipped a little glass in to steal some of the poaching liquid and determined that it makes a rather delightful mulled wine.

On this occasion the pears found themselves covered in a white blanket of white chocolate mascarpone mousse. They became close neighbors with lady fingers that also became intoxicated with a reduced version of the poaching liquid. Everyone was happily capped with whipped cream and white chocolate curls.

The next day my pears became fast friends with a ginger and cardamom panna cotta.

Don’t you think for one minute that these pears need some fancy accompaniment to make them special enough for the Holidays. Oh no. They are, on their own, simply perfect. Serve with creme fraiche or whipped cream – oh and can you imagine what a creamy caramel would do for these spicy pears. Oh goodness.


White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears
from Bon Appetit, December 2007
This is a great holiday “wow” dessert that is actually better made the day ahead. Space out your prep. You can make the pears and reduction 2 days ahead and assemble everything else the day before. Let rest in the fridge. This will give all the incredible flavors a chance to hang out and get to know one another.

Spiced Pears:
1 750-ml bottle dry white wine
2 cups pear juice or pear nectar
1 1/4 cups sugar
12 whole green cardamom pods, crushed in resealable plastic bag with mallet
4 1-inch-diameter rounds peeled fresh ginger (each about 1/8 inch thick)
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
7 large firm but ripe Anjou pears (3 to 31/4 pounds), peeled (the original recipe called for 5 but I wanted more. Feel free to make even more pears – you won’t be sorry)

White Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse:
7 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), finely chopped
1/3 cup poire Williams (clear pear brandy) – I used apple brandy and I heard no complaints
1/4 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 8- to 8.8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Trifle Assembly:
3 3-ounce packages soft ladyfingers, separated
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream

White chocolate curls

1 tablespoon powdered sugar


For spiced pears:

Combine first 6 ingredients in large saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Add pears and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until pears are just tender when pierced with knife, about 35 minutes. Transfer liquid with pears to large bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.

Using slotted spoon, transfer pears to plate. Boil poaching liquid in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat until slightly thickened and reduced to generous 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Strain into 2-cup measuring cup; discard spices in strainer. Cool. Cover and chill pears and pear syrup until cold.
For mousse:

Combine white chocolate, pear or apple brandy, and 1/4 cup water in top of double boiler set over simmering water. (You can also do this in the microwave for 30 sec. increments – be very careful not to overheat) Stir until smooth (mixture will be very liquidy). Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; discard bean. Transfer white chocolate mixture to large bowl; gradually add mascarpone, whisking until mixture is smooth. Cool mascarpone mixture until barely lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup cream in medium bowl until peaks form. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture in 4 additions. Cover and chill white chocolate mousse until set, about 3 hours. DO AHEAD: Pears and mousse can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
For trifle assembly:

Cut pears lengthwise in half and remove cores and stems; cut halves lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Arrange ladyfingers, rounded sides down, in single layer in bottom of 12-cup trifle dish (about 8 inches in diameter and 5 inches deep), covering bottom completely (using about 15 ladyfingers). Drizzle 5 tablespoons pear syrup evenly over ladyfingers. Using small offset spatula, spread 1/3 of white chocolate mousse over ladyfingers, making layer slightly thicker around outer edges of dish to allow mousse to be more visible (center of mousse layer will be thin). Starting at outer edges of dish, place pear slices in single layer with curved edges against sides of dish atop mousse, covering completely. Repeat layering of ladyfingers, syrup, mousse, and pears 2 more times. Cover with fourth layer of ladyfingers (some ladyfingers and pear slices may be left over). Drizzle ladyfingers evenly with 5 tablespoons syrup. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate trifle and remaining pear syrup separately.

Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups whipping cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup pear syrup and beat until stiff peaks form. Working in batches, transfer cream to large pastry bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe rosettes all over top of trifle, mounding slightly in center. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger. Garnish with chocolate curls. DO AHEAD: Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Sift powdered sugar over trifle just before serving.


17 Responses to “On poached pears and a trifle”

  1. cathryn

    I made this last year. I felt like there wasn’t a high enough pear to mousse ratio, but it was all right.

  2. tara

    You’ve got both Sean and me drooling; he adores trifles, while I’m smitten for a tiramisu. This is a beautifully written post Ashley, full of such vivid imagery.

  3. Megan Gordon

    For some reason, whenever I see trifles I think of Nigella Lawson. Perhaps she’s a big fan…not sure. Regardless, yours looks absolutely lovely. Wondering how it keeps (as it looks rather large)–although that’s often not an issue in our house! Thanks for sharing, Ashley.

  4. Charlotte

    Wow I wouldn’t have thought of putting white chocolate with spiced pears but it must be an incredible combo! Great pics as usual 🙂

  5. Lael

    Oh, I have missed visiting your blog! It’s usually in my regular rounds but I’ve been a bit absent from the food blog world in general the last few months. Anyway, this trifle has me wishing to be back in Bellingham for a proper, wintry, Northwest Christmas. All these cozy flavors taste a bit different in the summer sun Down Under. I’ll forward this recipe onto my mom because both of us love trifles! As always, your photos are absolutely gorgeous.

  6. lizzy

    I have been searching for a recipe that is a good play on a trifle/tiramisu combination — could soft ladyfingers be substituted for the crisp ladyfingers? If so, what would you suggest using to soften them up, since regular tiramisu uses espresso to dunk the ladyfingers, obviously that wouldn’t work for this recipe!


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