I first made this Smitten Kitchen recipe during a visit from my parents. I recall it being easy, elegant, and enjoyed by all. I failed to get a photo, bookmarked it for a repeat attempt…and then about four years went by, for no good reason. I don’t make dessert that often, I never buy that many pears, I’m out of vanilla beans—I don’t know what my excuses were, but they all seem flimsy in retrospect. Because finally, last month, when I happened to have a surplus of ripe, ungainly little Bartletts (farmers’ market seconds left over from a canning project), I revisited it and fell in love all over again. A one-dish dessert that transforms a handful of basic ingredients into meltingly tender, tart-sweet fruit bathed in a fragrant caramelized sauce—how could I have wasted so much of my life not eating roasted pears?
Friends, don’t be like me. These pears will make you feel like a culinary rock star without breaking a sweat, help you celebrate the pear harvest in style, wow your dinner party guests with a sophisticated and seemingly effortless finale, or let you whip up a fairly wholesome weeknight treat. I have no doubt that they would be delicious over ice cream, topped with cream or crème fraiche, served with a cheese plate or spooned over oatmeal, but I have yet to do more than eat them straight from the pan. It may be counterintuitive to post this recipe during the holiday season, the one time of year when I feel compelled to tackle ambitious baking projects, yet it’s an excellent reminder that the simplest things really are often the best.
¼ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean (or a whole one if you’re feeling decadent)
1½ pounds ripe or slightly underripe medium pears, peeled if desired (but not necessary), halved though the stem and cored
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
- Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod pieces among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish and dot each pear with some butter.
- Roast the pears for 30 minutes, brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer (a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance).
- Serve warm, topped with the caramelized drippings from the pan.
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; leftover pears can be eaten cold or reheated briefly in the microwave.