Monday, November 16, 2009
BROWN SUGAR CARDAMOM PEAR BUTTER
Searching for a pear butter recipe to add to my burgeoning jam collection, I found this one on Epicurious and was instantly smitten with the revolutionary idea of using brown sugar instead of white sugar in canning. I love brown sugar, and have been known to sneak small bits of it straight whenever I’m measuring it out for a recipe. And indeed, the brown sugar adds a nice, rich note to this otherwise straightforward pear butter—if not quite strong enough, in my opinion, to merit the original title of Caramel-Pear Butter, which, coupled with the presence of salt in the ingredient list, had led me to dare to hope that it might taste like salted butter caramel in a jar.
This is slightly more labor-intensive than my previous two jam recipes. For one thing, seven pounds is a lot of pears. I scored a great price of $1 a pound at the farmers’ market (though I should have let them ripen a little longer—their tarter flavor wasn’t a problem, but the finished pear butter was a bit grainy), but they were small, and going over 20something pears with a vegetable peeler is a thankless job. There’s no added pectin here, either; the mixture thickens the old-fashioned way, with slow cooking, and must be tended constantly so it doesn’t stick or scorch.
When everything was done and I tasted the pear butter, I wasn’t sure whether it had all been worth it. It tasted good, but pretty average, like sweetened pear, without a really detectable brown-sugar flavor. But maybe the constant tasting and smelling of sugar over the course of the afternoon head deadened my tastebuds, or maybe the little leftover half-jar I set aside in the fridge mellowed and deepened overnight, because the next day, when I spread it over toast, I was really impressed. This is some fantastic stuff. Even if it doesn’t taste like caramel, it has a dark, complex, ineffable quality worthy of gobbling by the spoonful. And look at that nice, thick, spreadable, buttery consistency, so thick it stands up in peaks in the photo above!
Two notes: The original recipe called for nutmeg, but I wanted to use cardamom, my favorite spice, and was not disappointed; it’s a great match for pears. Also, being sans food mill, I used an immersion blender on the pears instead. (I wouldn't recommend blitzing them in a blender or food processor, though, because you want to retain a little of that whole-fruit texture; if you don't have a food mill or immersion blender, try a potato masher.)
¼ cup apple juice
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
7 pounds ripe Bartlett pears
3 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1. Prepare jars and closures as in steps 1-2 here.
2. Combine apple juice and 4 tablespoons lemon juice in a large, deep, heavy pot. Peel, core, and cut pears, one at a time, into ½- to ¾-inch pieces; as soon as they are cut, mix pears into juice mixture in pot to prevent browning.
3. Cook pears over medium heat until they release enough juice for mixture to boil, stirring frequently, about 16 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until pears are very tender, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove pot from heat. Press pear mixture through the fine plate of a food mill into a large bowl and return the pear puree to the same pot. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to puree the pears in the pot to your desired consistency, or for chunkier pear butter, crush pears by hand with a potato masher.) Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, brown sugar, cardamom, and ¾ teaspoon coarse salt.
5. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent scorching, for about 1 hour until pear butter thickens and is reduced to 8 cups.
6. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes, as in steps 7-9 here.
Yield: About 16 4-ounce jars
Time: 4 hours
Leftover potential: Of course.