Simple pleasures

Who pears wins

There is a real stillness to the air and the warm sun feels unusual for April. The car, unmoved from the driveway in weeks, has a flat tyre and battery. Not that there’s anywhere to go, any need for the car. And it wouldn’t surprise me if in this strange haze a snake slithered past, a small farm wind turbine creaked and a wildebeest skeleton’s bleached bones glinted in the afternoon light.

This is not the London I’m familiar with and these are strange days. But it’s also not unlike how I dream of living a lot of the time. It is quiet, if perhaps too quiet and some days it feels like running a very exclusive restaurant in the middle of nowhere where supplies are shipped in specially.

There has been a lot of baking over the past fortnight. A lot. Our daily bread, sometimes delicious, sometimes a disappointment, has become a routine for me. My five year old starter is really coming into its own now. There has certainly been banana bread, much like many other households and there have been a few cakes and buns too. But this panic baking is calming down a little. The comfort we are all looking for is being found in carbs and sugar but there will be a point, very soon, where this has to stop.

I’m yet to manage all those black and white French films I thought I’d catch up on and all those books I though I’d get round to. I haven’t even started. But it’s still early days, things are settling down a little and as I pull this pear, rose and almond ‘Tatin’ out from the oven I’m pretty grateful that we are all here together, safe and well.

“Life,” to quote Jurassic Park, “finds a way.”

2 Anjou –or similar firm– pears, quartered and cored
Golden caster sugar, about 100g
1tsp vanilla extract
1tsp orange blossom water
1tsp ‘Monin’ –or similar– almond syrup (optional)
2tsp cider vinegar
1tbsp butter
2tsp water
1 sheet of puff pastry
Toasted almonds and dried rose petals to garnish

It’s important to use firm pears unless you want a mush. Anjou are perfect here.
Heat the oven to 220c.
Cover the bottom of a 20cm sauté or cast iron pan with sugar about half a centimetre thick.
Add the vinegar and water and heat until the sugar is dissolved, turning golden brown and bubbling.
Carefully stir in the butter then lay the pears down in a circle around the pan, the points facing in to the middle and cook gently for a few minutes without letting the caramel burn.
Lay the pastry on top and fold it down, around the edges and into the pan. If you can, fold it under the pears a little, tucking them in.
Cook in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the pastry has puffed up and is a deep golden brown.
Remove from the oven, leave for five minutes then flip out onto a plate. I’d leave it for about 15-20 minutes to cool more so you can serve it warm rather than hot. Sprinkle with dried rose petals and toasted almond flakes. Vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche wouldn’t go amiss with it either.

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