They say that necessity is the mother of invention. I agree in some cases. In other cases, gluttony is the mother of invention. Take my newest original dessert for example:
I was busying myself the night before New Year’s poaching some pears in about half a bottle of Sauternes wine for a dessert serving in our grand end of the year dinner, when suddenly it dawned on me that I didn’t know what to do with the poaching liquid afterwards and that half a bottle of Sauternes certainly seemed a pretty terrible thing to let go to waste. So on a bit of a whim, I decided to poach a few pears more than I needed and have some fun with the leftovers.
This spur of the moment decision resulted in the creation of another Johan original creation: Pear and Sauternes sorbet!
Sauternes: Nectar of the Gods
Before we go on, allow me a few words on the mighty queen of dessert wines, Sauternes. Sauternes is a French sweet wine from the Graves section of Bordeaux, made on Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by the Bortrytis Cinerea fungus also known as Noble Rot. Now, granted, that doesn’t sound very appealing, but when Noble Rot attacks happen under just the right circumstances, such as those found in Graves, a pretty magical thing happens: the grapes become partially raisined and develop a concentrated, sweet, nutty and characteristic flavor. When subsequently turned into wine, the end result is a very sweet, wonderfully complex, slightly musky, acidic and fruity white dessert wine of outstanding quality and fame.
Impossibly long-lived, rare and expensive: Since fungi and rot are involved in the production process, Sauternes production is obviously somewhat of a hit or miss operation and not all vintages turn out great – if at all. In the vintages that do turn out favorably, though, some pretty spectacular, long-lived and ridiculously expensive wines are ed out. And I do mean long-lived. Top-shelf Sauternes can easy outlive their maker and his first-born son, too, as they can continue to age well even past 100 years of age. Speaking of which, if you’re interested, a 100 year old bottle of Sauternes from legendary producer Chateau d’yquem can be had for as little as $3995, be warned though that 1914 was a pretty mediocre vintage for Sauternes. Apparently a World War doesn’t really lay the foundation for great grape growing.
Cooking with Sauternes
Truth be told, I’m not sure exactly how and why I came up with the concept of poaching pears in such a beautiful wine as Sauternes. Most probably it was because everything else had already been done: Red wine, white wine, port, Riesling, Champagne, you name it. Sauternes was new and, admittedly, a bit over the top. I like over the top. Furthermore, I had a hunch that the syrupy sweetness as well as the preserved fruity character and complexity of the Sauternes would work really well with the natural juiciness and sweetness of the pears. I’ve long ago learned to listen to my hunches.
The dessert that started it all. Photo credit @zwatz on instagram.com
In short, I figured pears poached in Sauternes would make for a wonderfully decadent dessert, and, as it turned out, if I made a sorbet out of the poaching liquid, I had two desserts for the price of one (admittedly very expensive) dessert. Last but not least, using half a bottle for the dessert gave me another half bottle to serve to my diners alongside the dessert. See, everybody wins.
Whatever the reason or combination of events, I ended up coming up with the recipe below. The recipe below, by the way, is for the sorbet alone, if you want to simply make Sauternes poached pears, only poach the pears for about 15 minutes. You can make as many or as few as you want. Heck, you can do what I did and make extras, evacuate some after fifteen minutes and continue on with the rest. The choice is yours, you are the boss of your kitchen!
Pear and Sauternes sorbet. Photo credit @zwatz on instagram.com
Pear and Sauternes Sorbet
- Five ripe pears peeled, cut in half and cored
- Half a bottle of Sauternes wine
- 5 centiliters of premium aged rum
- 1 vanilla pod
- 50 grams of sugar see step 9 below
- One vanilla pod
- Juice of half a lemon
- A pinch of salt
- Put pears in a sauté pan or similar, add sugar and pour over Sauternes wine.
- Add lid to pan and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer under lid for about half an hour until pears are tender, going on mushy.
- Cut vanilla pod in half and scrape out seeds.
- Kill heat under pan, dump in vanilla seeds as well as the pod and and leave to infuse until pan is room temperature.
- When pan is no longer hot, remove vanilla pod and pour in rum, lemon juice and salt, refrigerate till cold.
- When cold, add chilled contents of pan to a blender and blend until very smooth.
- If liquid is too thick and slushy, add a little water or high quality pear juice.
- Taste sorbet base and add more sugar if needed, it should be plenty sweet already.
- Either freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions, or see instructions below if you don’t own an ice cream maker.
How-to: Make perfect sorbet without an ice cream maker
- Get hold of a wide bottom, shallow dish that will fit in your freezer.
- Pour liquid sorbet mixture into said dish and put it in the freezer, sorbet preferably should rise no more than an inch or two up the sides of dish.
- Every hour during freezing, remove dish from freezer and stir mixture thoroughly with a fork.
- Repeat step 3 above as many times as needed until mixture is frozen, expect to be doing it 4-6 times. The mixture will slowly turn to slush and, eventually large ice crystals will form. Texture will be like a sorbet, but with larger crystals.
- The magic part: When sorbet is completely set, remove it from the freezer and process it in batches in a blender until smooth and creamy like a proper sorbet.
- Put finished sorbet in a suitable container and return to freezer.
And there you go, proper sorbet without an ice cream maker! Ice cream makers? Bah humbug!
Important note: Alcohol is not just for fun and games! If you looked at the recipe above, you’ll have noticed I added a fair bit of rum. I do this not just because I enjoy the taste of rum, I do it because alcohol doesn’t freeze in a domestic freezer. Adding a bit of alcohol along with sugar gives us the proper amount of antifreeze protection that we need for this to work perfectly.
Cooing with Sauternes: Is it worth it?
How much you spend on ingredients and how fancy said ingredients should be is and always will be a matter of personal preference. Like I said, I like my cooking a little over the top from time to time and I love how people always go blurry eyed and giggly when you tell them they’re eating something rare and expensive.
Could this be done with a more reasonably priced wine? Certainly! Would it be as wonderful? I don’t know! For my money, I thought the Sauternes added a nice subtle depth and complexity with a side serving of funk that I am not quite sure would have been provided by a different style of wine from another area. And heck, it was New Year’s Eve after all. One needs to spoil oneself and one’s friends a bit on this particular night. For a special occasion dessert, I found the combination of pears, Sauternes and aged rum absolutely, decadently wonderful.
I hope you’ll give it a try, even if that means using an inexpensive bottle of Sauternes (they’re out there, check the supermarkets) or other types of wine.
What’s your favorite decadently over the top dessert?