Red Wine Poached Pears
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To start, prepare a parchment lid that fits the pot you're using. Set this aside.
Next, weigh out the caster sugar, separating it into two equal portions. Set aside. Then, prepare the orange/lemon peel and spices, and set them aside on a small plate or saucer. Have the vanilla pod ready, but do not slice or deseed it yet.
Prepare a large bowl of water and add the salt, and set it aside. Wash, peel, and core the pears. Slice a thin piece of pear at its bottom so that it sits flat and doesn't wobble about. Submerge the pears into the bowl of salt water to prevent the flesh from browning.
Empty the bottle of red wine into the pot and put it on low-medium heat, and leave it to simmer (we don't want it to get to a rolling boil). In the meantime, drain the salt water, rinse the pears, and then leave them aside to drain. When the red wine starts simmering, add the spices. At this stage, you can slice the vanilla pod in half, deseed it, and add the seeds and pod into the red wine. The wine should be simmering at this stage, but not boiling.
Now, add 1 portion (75g) of the caster sugar and stir it into the simmering wine. The mixture should be smelling amazing by now! :) Plop the pears into the wine. I like to make sure they all stand on their bottoms, but it is okay if they float about.
Once the pears are in the red wine, add water just until the pears are submerged in the poaching liquid. Avoid adding too much as we do not want to dilute the spiced wine. When the mixture starts to simmer again, place the parchment lid on. This will prevent the spiced wine goodness from evaporating too rapidly. My kitchen is outdoors, so I also place the lid of the pot on leaving a wide gap for steam to escape.
Keep the heat on medium low and let the pears poach. If you're impatient, poaching the pear for 2 hours will be sufficient. But if you, like me, love a tender poached pear with a dark magenta-stained interior, poach the pears for 4 hours. While the pears are poaching, return on occasion to check that the pears are still submerged in the poaching liquid or to make sure that the flame hasn't gone out (be extra careful with open flames, of course).
Once the pears are done poaching, fish them out of the poaching liquid and set them aside. The pears are tender at this stage (especially if you went with the 4-hour poach), so do it carefully. Of course, a dented poached pear or one that splits into half isn't gonna cause the world to end, so don't put too much pressure on yourself to do this perfectly!
Now, we'll reduce the spiced wine. Put the pot of spiced wine back on the stove, and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the remaining 75g of caster sugar and stirring it in to make sure all the sugar is melted. Reduce the poaching liquid for about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how hot your stove gets on "medium high".
While the poaching liquid is reducing, crush the lotus biscuits. You can do this in a ziploc and bash the cookies with whatever contraption works for you. The food processor also works, but I prefer the crushed cookies to have a mixture of large and small chunks for texture. Processing it into a sandy consistency also works, if that's what you prefer. Set the cookies aside in an air tight container, if not serving immediately.
When you're ready to serve the dessert, whip the double cream to soft peaks by hand. Double cream comes together really quickly, so dispense with the stand mixer and rely on what little elbow grease you'll require for this.
To assemble, place the poached pears on a large plate. Decorate with the crushed lotus biscuits and raspberries. Spoon some of the reduced poaching liquid (now a warm, luscious, deep dark, purple-tinged syrup) over the pears.
To serve, bring the pears, double cream, syrup, and any leftover lotus biscuits and raspberries to the table. Guests can plate their own portions, adding cream, and more syrup, crushed biscuits, or raspberries if they wish. You can now stand aside and bask in the outpouring of oohs and ahhs. (Helping yourself to this amazing dessert as well, of course)
Enjoy your meal!