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How to make a prophet smile

Pears poached in Frangelico, with hazelnut praline

How do you make a prophet smile? One thing I wouldn’t suggest is to organise a weekend rapture party and not deliver on your promise.

Just ask any member of American octagenarian Harold Camping’s Family Radio cult. None of its members was smiling when the sunset hour passed on May 21, 2011 and they were all still there, still human, still breathing and the rest of us hedonistic heathens were still … well, smiling.

Did anybody notice that not one of the doomsday cult’s members expressed any concern whatsoever for the rest of us, even though (they thought, or hoped) we were all destined to suffer a horrible, fiery death once they had all been raptured up to the Big Bubble of Piety in the Sky? That was the most telling thing about the whole sorry story. Aren’t Christians taught to love their neighbours? Only if we’re believers, it seems. I’d say to hell with the lot of them, but I’d like to think I have more humanity than that.

So, the end of the world is … nah. As it turned out. For now anyway. And, rather than stand around bashfully, redfaced and humbled, at not being raptured after all, these deeply spiritual beings uttered such inanities as ‘God is testing our faith’. Riiiiight. Maybe God was having a dinner party and having so much fun that he forgot all about the supplicant rapturees gazing meekly heavenward, begging bowls to the afterlife in hand. Or maybe God was thinking, ‘Let’s first see you try to do something for the ungodly billions around you before you even THINK of entering my Heaven.’ Maybe God was in a kick-ass mood.

The other night, there were prophets in my home, as it happened. Two prophets whom I hold in very high esteem. Lovely people, both of them, who go by the surname of Prophet. And the first sentence of this column is the whimsical name I gave to a dessert I made in their honour, the two of them having done me the delightful favour of moving into a cottage round the corner from my home.

I’d been thinking lately of making a dessert with pears or apples earlier this winter after having enjoyed a delicious lunch at Luke Dale Roberts’ Test Kitchen in Woodstock. Tru-Cape was launching a recipe book dedicated to these fruits, and Dale Roberts had conjured such delights as conference pear tarte tatin with a superb terrine of cornfed chicken, duck liver and chorizo, one of the best terrines I have enjoyed anywhere, any time.

I cannot and do not pretent to be anywhere near the man’s league as a cook, but I love cooking with fruit, so decided to adapt my own old pears in red wine recipe.

So, how do you make a Prophet smile? Easy. Make them a dessert of pears poached in white wine and Frangelico liqueur, with ginger ice-cream, hazelnut brittle and a sticky sauce of the reduced liquor that the pears had been poached in. Chris, whose eyes always twinkle, twinkled his eyes as if they’d just seen somebody being spirited to heaven, and Carol was in silent raptures of her own. Ag, maybe it was the wine. Which there was, in glasses et everyone’s elbow, and in the golden sauce that slinked silkily over plates.

I had never cooked with Frangelico before, but I will again. This glorious Italian hazelnut liqueur is pure, heavenly nectar even when sipped in its virginal essence. It should be fed to anyone whose idea of attaining an afterlife is to follow a random American preacher’s advice, give away all his possessions, foist the cat onto some unsuspecting third cousin, and check into a hotel to wait for the end. One sip and they’d be raptured to a place they’d never been to before. Not heaven though, just a really cool spot in their own heads where mellow people go for an hour or two when they’ve had a few drinks.

I had worried that, when added to white wine and simmered down, it would lose its essential flavour and become a dissipated shadow of itself. But the white wine – dry – served only to bolster the liqueur, becoming a medium to carry the flavour while lending body.

So easy too. Just pour 500ml dry white wine into a saucepan, add 100ml Frangelico, and bring to a simmer. Core, peel and halve pears (one per portion) and plop into the pot. Simmer very gently until the pears are just tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the pears, raise the heat and reduce until the sauce achieves a pouring consistency. If you’d like it sweeter, add sugar to taste during the cooking. Cool and keep aside.

You could serve this hot, with custard, pouring the sticky golden sauce over the top, as a warming winter dessert. Or you could make, as I did, a subtly-flavoured ginger ice-cream. And serve it warm or chilled.

I do not own an ice-cream maker, so this recipe suits me well. Whisk 8 egg yolks lightly in a bowl and set aside. Have a second bowl at hand. Put 200g sugar in a heavy pot, pour over 500 full cream milk and 500ml cream and place on a medium-high heat. When the milk and cream come to a boil, whip off the heat and pour a little of it on the egg yolks, whisking. Pour this back into the saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon to thicken into a custard. Grate fresh ginger (to taste) and squeeze the juices into the mixture. Pour into a container and freeze for several hours. This worked perfectly, first time.

You may well find your guests floating on the ceiling. But not any higher than that.

First published in Weekend Argus winter 2011

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