What A Pear...

I don't want to jinx anything, but with longer days, the arrival of Daylight Savings Time, and the first inklings of warmer weather, I think spring may be arriving in Chicago. I'm not going to preclude the possibility of an April blizzard, but it certainly feels like spring out there, so I've decided to herald the (potential) arrival of fairer weather by resuming my production of frozen desserts. I know I said that I'd be checking out my new ice cream book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home, come spring, but with the move, I'm not exactly sure where it is. I did, however, find my well-loved copy of The Perfect Scoop, so I decided it was time to tackle another one of it's recipes that has been haunting my imagination for years.

It should come as no surprise that this particular ice cream iteration involves caramel -- it's a flavor that has dominated my baking experiments for the past few years, from pies, to cookies, to previous ice cream recipes. It's safe to say, if I can figure out a way to get caramel into a dessert, I will. I particularly enjoy caramel when paired with various fruits. I may not have outgrown my childhood aversion to eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but adding caramel to the mix will almost certainly get me to eat fruit, even if it negates its natural nutritional value. So when I saw David Lebovitz's unique recipe for caramelized pear ice cream, I knew I had to give it a try.

I allowed my fear of candy-making to dissuade me from attempting the recipe for several years, and by the time I'd finally gotten some experience under my belt with making caramel, I never seemed to be able to coordinate pear season with my motivation to make ice cream. I came very close to trying this recipe back in December when my parents received a corporate gift of pears from Harry and David (say what you will about them; they do grow the most delicious pears I've ever had), but I thought we were getting close to moving, and it didn't make sense at the time to be producing more frozen food that would need to be transported from one fridge to the next.

We're still not technically in pear season any longer, but they were on sale at Dominick's last week, and it took them long enough to become ripe that I was able to overcome last weekend's bout of illness that left me inspired to tackle anything food-related, including eating. The fruit was finally good to go today, and making this ice cream recipe with them was surprisingly simple. The caramel and pear mixture was much easier to make than I had anticipated (I'm not sure if that's due to the humidity levels in my new home, or just the fact that I've gotten more experienced with caramelizing sugar), and the lack of a custard base meant that the ice cream came together very quickly.

The flavor ended up being a bit unusual -- the flavor of caramel is dominant, followed by a hint of fresh pear at the end. I'm glad that it was an egg-free base, as I think the eggs would have completely drowned out the other flavors, and the pear would have likely been undetectable altogether. As is true of nearly all of the Lebovitz recipes I've tried, the caramel pear ice cream was texturally perfect -- very creamy and smooth on the tongue.

Mostly, this recipe makes me want to try cutting out the fruity middle man, and create a purely caramel-flavored ice cream. Thankfully, though it's not in The Perfect Scoop, Lebovitz has a recipe for that as well. Stay tuned readers; I'm definitely going to make this happen.

Pear-Caramel Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop

3 medium-sized ripe pears, peeled and cored
3/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 c. heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
a few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Dice the pears into 1/4-inch pieces.
2. Spread the sugar in a large, nonreactive, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook the sugar over medium-heat, watching it carefully. When it begins to liquefy and darken at the edges, use a heatproof spatula to very gently stir the sugar, encouraging the heat of the liquefied sugar around the edges to moisten and melt the sugar crystals in the center.
3. Once the sugar becomes deep amber, stir in the pear pieces. Some of the caramel will seize and harden, but as you cook the pears, use a heatproof spatula to stir them and melt any bits of hard caramel. Continue to cook the pears for 10 minutes, until the pieces are cooked through.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cream, them mix in the remaining cream, along with the salt and a few drops of lemon juice.
5. Let cool to room temperature, then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Press the mixture through a mesh strainer with a flexible rubber spatula to remove any tough pear fibers.
6. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

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