Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pears and Cardamom

I’ve had a mini-obsession with the combination of pears and cardamom since trying a cardamom-pear scone at a local coffee shop something like a year ago. That generous dose of cardamom was fresher and spicier than any taste of the stuff I’d had before, and I knew I had to have more. Earlier this month, I made a sweet bread laced with cardamom, and I decided that would be a great foundation for a dish featuring the ubiquitous winter pear.

French toast was going to be the way to go and I wanted to add sautéed pears to it. I didn’t just want a sauce and I certainly didn’t want to perform the delicate operation of cutting into a thick slice of bread in order to stuff it with something gooey, especially first thing in the morning. Instead, I made a sort of French toast casserole, which, to the discerning eye, will look suspiciously like bread pudding. I assembled the whole thing the night before I wanted to bake it, then could just bake it in the morning, which is hardly a delicate operation at all, even for a non-morning person like me.

I sautéed the pears in brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and a little lemon juice, then layered them between thick slices of my cardamom bread. You certainly use other breads to make this, but I think a soft, rich bread, such as Challah or Brioche, would be nice. For the custard, I consulted several recipes and even Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, and think I came up with a decent proportion of eggs to milk. The resulting dish is quite moist and not too eggy, a little sweet, but not cloying. And the cardamom-pear combo? Still a dynamic duo if you ask me. And this milieu is another good place for them to shine together. If I make this again, I might try adding even more pears.

I made a small-ish batch of this dish, since I wasn’t going to be feeding a crowd, but I think it could be doubled and baked in a larger baking dish (say 13” x 9”). It’s a great way to make a weekend brunch ahead of time, and the leftovers are pretty good reheated in the microwave a day or two later. If you don’t want to do pears, apples would probably work as well, but would probably need to be sautéed longer to make them tender. Other fruits might also be good when they are in season. If you hate cardamom, leave it out and double the cinnamon, or try a little nutmeg. If you hate bread, you’re going to have to eat something else for breakfast.

French Toast Casserole with Cardamom and Pears
This dish is not overly-sweet, so you can serve it with maple syrup if desired (I did).

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
3 medium-sized pears, peeled and sliced about ¼ -inch thick
4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
½ teaspoon cinnamon, divided
½ teaspoon cardamom, preferably freshly ground, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice

10-12 ounces rich, slightly sweet, day-old (or slightly older) bread, such as Finnish Cardamom Bread, challah or brioche, thickly sliced (or enough for two layers of your baking dish)

3 large eggs
1 ½ cups milk (I used low-fat. Full-fat is probably even better.)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Melt the 1 tablespoon butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the pears and two tablespoons brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are tender and the liquid around them is thickened. Add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cardamom, and lemon juice. Cook and gently stir until the liquid is thick. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (or coat it with cooking spray). Place half of the bread on the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping slightly if necessary. Arrange half of the pear mixture on top of the bread. Layer the remaining bread on top of the pears.

3. In a medium-size bowl, beat together the eggs and milk with a whisk. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, remaining ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, remaining ¼ teaspoon cardamom and vanilla and beat until combined.

4. Pour the egg mixture over the mixture in the pan. Press down slightly on the top layer of bread. Arrange the remaining pear mixture on top of the bread. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4 hours).

5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake, covered, at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes more, or until the custard is set. It should be moist but no longer runny. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

Makes 4-6 servings. Refrigerate leftovers for a day or two and reheat in the microwave.

Other recipes like this one: Apple Cinnamon Pancakes, Triple Ginger Peach Shortcakes, Apple Turnovers with Dried Fruit

One year ago: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

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