warm pear and caramel brioche with caramel sauce

belinda jeffery's recipes

My recipes are easy. They’re for the food I like to eat. Simple, fresh, full of flavour and just a bit different. You certainly don't need any great cooking skills for them, you just need to like food and like eating – just like me. The rest is simple.

warm pear and caramel brioche with caramel sauce

This recipe is a great favourite of mine. The brioche is quite flat and rather crusty on top – ‘rustic’ is the word that springs to mind – but there’s not much that can beat it for me in the taste stakes. It’s fragrantly yeasty, with a moist crumb dotted with sweet chunks of pear, and it has a wonderful buttery, caramel flavour that comes from being doused in sweetened cream and cognac which seeps into and around the brioche as it bakes, forming a delectably chewy crust. It’s not hard to make, but it does need a bit of confidence when it comes to working with sticky brioche dough . . . and a food processor with enough grunt to make it, as the dough becomes very elastic and can cause the motor to stall. My processor has a 650 watt motor and that seems to do the trick.

500g ripe, not too-soft pears
40g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar
small handful of flaked almonds
90ml pure cream
1 1/2 tablespoons cognac (if you have any, pear liqueur is divine too)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
good vanilla-bean ice-cream or softly whipped cream, to serve

Brioche
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
250g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant dried yeast granules
3 eggs, at room temperature
160g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into smallish chunks
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Caramel sauce
1 cup (250ml) pure cream
1 cup (220g) firmly packed soft brown sugar
1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) maple syrup
1/4 cup (90g) golden syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the brioche, put the sugar, milk and salt into a small ramekin and stir them together until the sugar and salt are thoroughly combined, then set the dish aside.

Put the flour and yeast granules into the bowl of a sturdy food processor fitted with a steel blade. Whiz them together for 15 seconds or so.

With the processor going, pour the milk mixture through the feed tube and whiz until combined. Keep the processor going and add the eggs, one at a time, waiting briefly until each one is incorporated before adding the next. With the processor still going add the butter, a few chunks at a time; the mixture will become very sticky and elastic. I always hang onto the base of the processor firmly when I do this as it wobbles a bit under the pressure. Finally, add the lemon zest. If your processor does stop and won’t restart, scrape the mixture out into a bowl, and work it with a pastry scraper or hefty spoon until the butter is thoroughly incorporated.

Scrape the dough (it’s really stretchy, sticky and rather unwieldy at this stage) into a large bowl then cover the bowl with plastic film and a tea towel. Leave it in a warm (not hot), draught-free spot for a few hours. (The time will vary depending on how warm the weather is – it rises more rapidly on warm days.)

Once it has doubled in size, uncover the dough, punch it down (see note below) and knead it lightly in the bowl for 1 minute (or ideally use a pastry scraper to work it). Unlike bread dough, brioche dough needs a lighter, gentler touch so don’t overdo it. Cover the bowl as before, and leave the dough for another hour or so until it has risen to about double the size.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 190°C. Line a small baking tray with baking paper, and lightly butter a 23 cm round cake tin.

Peel and core the pears then chop them into 1.5 cm chunks. Spread them over the prepared baking tray and dot them with the butter. Slip the tray into the oven and cook the pears for 10 minutes, or until they’re just tender. Remove the tray from the oven, sprinkle the pears with half the sugar and stir gently, then leave them to cool.

When the dough has risen again, knead it briefly to expel excess air, then add the pears and any liquid that has formed around them. With your hands, gently work them into the dough – this is a bit awkward as the dough becomes very slippery and sloppy, but I promise you they will eventually mix in. Scoop the dough, as best you can, into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top. Cover the tin with plastic film, and leave the dough to rise again until it has doubled in volume.

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Put the cream, cognac (or liqueur), vanilla and remaining sugar into a small jug. The mixture is quite thick so stir it briskly to dissolve the sugar as much as possible then set the jug aside – you can warm it gently in the microwave if you like, which helps dissolve the sugar.

When the dough has risen, pop the tin in the oven and bake the brioche for 20 minutes. After this time, lower the oven temperature to 170°C and remove the brioche from the oven. Working quickly, prick the surface with a fine skewer. Give the cream mixture a quick stir, then drizzle it over the top – some will sink in, and the remainder will pool on top or run down the sides. Return the brioche to the oven and continue to bake it for another 30–35 minutes, until it’s deep golden brown and a fine skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, to make the caramel sauce, put all the ingredients into a smallish, heavy-based saucepan. Clip a sugar thermometer onto the side (I know this is not your usual, everyday piece of kitchen paraphernalia; however, in this case you really do need it). Sit the pan over high heat and stir the mixture just until the sugar dissolves, then stop stirring and bring it to the boil. Let it bubble rapidly until the thermometer registers 108°C (this should only take a few minutes). Just keep an eye on it though, as it can bubble over really quickly. Take it off the heat and leave it to cool for at least 20 minutes. You can use it warm, or store it in the fridge in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 weeks. It tends to separate a little when it’s cold, but just give it a good stir and it comes back together. Makes about 2 cups (500 ml).

When the brioche is ready, remove the tin to a wire rack and allow the brioche to cool in the tin for 20 minutes (it will collapse a bit as it does). After this time, loosen around the edges and invert it onto a board or flat plate. Sit a serving dish on top and invert the brioche onto this, so it’s almond-side up. Serve it warm with caramel sauce and a scoop of ice-cream or softly whipped cream.

If you make the brioche ahead of time it can be gently warmed in a microwave oven, or wrapped in foil and heated in a very low (140°C) regular oven. Leftovers keep well in the fridge for 4–5 days and can be re-heated in the same way.

Punching down... This is a funny term, but a very descriptive one, as that’s exactly what you do with the dough. Just make a fist and gently thump (if there is such a thing!) the dough a few times so the air whooshes out and the dough collapses. You then just knead it gently before allowing it to rise again.

Serves 8.

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