Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poached Pears with Vanilla and Ginger

Well, I just finished my chemistry final, and I wasn't doing any productive (unless playing with mini magnets counts as productive) so I figured I should blog. I was on fall break this weekend so I went home and my dad and I made some poached pears for a dessert at our friends' house. Neither of us had ever made poached pears before but I decided that we should not poach the pears in red wine because in my opinion that would make them untasty. If I am making a dessert, I want to like my dessert. So we settled on a vanilla-ginger syrup with real vanilla beans and fresh ginger.

When we went to the grocery store we discovered that the price of vanilla beansis inversely correlated to the quantity you buy: A bottle with 1 vanilla bean cost $10, 2 vanilla beans cost $8, and 3 beans cost $7. I can only imagine how cheap 20 vanilla beans would be.

Anyways, my dad cut the pears into quarters while I heated 1.25L of water with 250g sugar, 2 tblsp chopped ginger, and half a vanilla bean.

To extract maximum flavor from the vanilla bean I sliced it lengthwise and used a knife to scrape out all the black seeds where the flavor is stored. I put the seeds into the water and I stuck the pods in for good measure.

The seeds are on the tip of the knife
So, I am sure that you are all wondering: What makes vanilla taste like vanilla? Well, the vanilla pod is the fruit of a genus of orchid (a genus being a group of species) that must be either hand pollinated or pollinated by one specific species of Mexican bee. The main flavor compound in vanilla is the vanillin molecule:

and artificial vanilla flavor is basically just vanillin dissolved in water and alcohol. McCormick's "Premium Imitation Vanilla" contains: "WATER, ALCOHOL (26%), NATURAL FLAVORINGS (INCLUDING EXTRACTIVES OF COCOA
So what makes natural vanilla different? Well, vanilla beans also contain lots of other compounds that add more dimension to the vanilla flavor. Natural vanilla extract is made by macerating vanilla beans in ethanol (alcohol) to extract the flavors.

Anyways, back to poached pears. After heating the water with the sugar, ginger, and vanilla, we added the pears to the liquid and let them simmer for 20 minutes, until the were soft. Then we took the pears out:

and boiled down the remaining liquid to form a syrup:

which we then poured back onto the pears (first removing the vanilla pods):

The pears went very well with a Basque butter cake our hosts served up for dessert because the cake soaked up the pear syrup on our plates.