Desserts are my specialty -- my favorite part of any meal when entertaining. My decision, however, about which confection to include for a menu is inevitably influenced by the season.
In the hot-weather months I love icy cold sorbets, ice creams perfumed with new flavors or well-chilled cheesecake mounded with fresh berries. During winter, warm, robust desserts are standard fare at our table.
When I invited several friends to a last-minute potluck supper, I offered to make the main course and dessert, while others brought side dishes, bread and salad. I roasted marinated pork tenderloins and made thyme-scented mashed potatoes, while guests arrived with honeyed carrots, a spinach, orange and goat-cheese salad plus crusty sourdough loaves. To end the meal, I created a pear and apricot gratin baked under a crumbly nut crust. I garnished each serving of the piping hot gratin with a small scoop of gingered ice cream, which melted and served as a sauce.
Although each dish was delicious, dessert seemed to be everyone's favorite. I combined sliced pears and sliced dried apricots with sugar, spices and lemon juice and peel and baked the mixture under a topping of toasted almonds, brown sugar, flour and butter. For the gingered ice cream, which took only minutes to prepare, I simply softened good-quality vanilla ice cream and stirred in grated fresh ginger.
This delectable winter sweet is a good choice to end a dinner for company, since much of the preparation can be done in advance. The fruit mixture and topping can be assembled in a baking pan and the ice cream embellished ahead. At baking time, the gratin is cooked unattended until the pears and apricots are tender and the crust is golden.
Although this dish was the finale to an evening dinner, it would be equally good as an ending to a winter brunch. Or you could invite friends to enjoy this dessert and coffee on a cold winter night.
Pear and ginger gratin with ginger ice cream
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pint best-quality vanilla ice cream, softened
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
5 large unripened Bosc pears (2 to 2 1/4 pounds), peeled, stemmed, cored and cut into 3/8 -inch slices
1 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/4 -inch strips and soaked in 1 cup hot water 10 minutes, then drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (color portion of peel)
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (see note)
fresh mint sprigs for garnish, optional
Place softened ice cream in large bowl and stir in grated ginger root. Cover and return to freezer to harden 1 hour. (Ice cream can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep covered and frozen. Soften slightly before using.)
Combine pear and apricot slices in large bowl. Mix together granulated sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in small bowl. Add to fruit and mix well. Stir in lemon zest and juice and mix well.
Spray 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread fruit evenly in dish. Set aside.
Combine flour, brown sugar and salt in medium bowl. Cut in butter using pastry blender or 2 table knives. Add almonds and mix well (mixture will be crumbly). Spread evenly over fruit. If not baking immediately, cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 hours.
Bake gratin on middle rack at 350 degrees until fruit is bubbling and crust is lightly browned, about 40 minutes. Remove and cool 5 minutes. Serve gratin warm. Top each portion with small scoop of ginger ice cream. Garnish each with mint sprig.
Note: To toast almonds, spread nuts on rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully, as nuts brown quickly.
Pub Date: 2/23/97