The French Laundry: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

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Pear Strudel-Custard-Chestnut11

Back to that endless well of inspiration and technique, The French Laundry Cookbook. It’s like a small mini cooking course for every…course. I refine, learn and always end up with an awesome dish or two. This dessert was from a couple months back when pears were at their most abundant. I had some of the fruit and wanted to make some kind of pastry with them. A quick search against my cookbook database using -the very useful- Eatyourbooks.com resulted in several recipes using pears in a pastry including this lovely and refined version of a strudel.

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The first component I prepared was the fruit. I cut the neck from the pears and peeled the remaining rounded part. I used two different round cutters to make even cylinders and to hollow them out. These got poached in a syrup of white wine, vanilla, sugar and water. Once cool they went in the fridge until baking time.

Poached Pears

With another large pear I made the crystallized pear chips. Using a mandolin, I sliced it into paper thin slices. I poached these in a syrup of sugar and water, heavy on the sugar, until translucent. I laid them carefully on a Silpat and dried them in a 275 F oven until perfectly crispy. I reserved these in a container with a pack of silica to keep them crispy.

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Pear Chips2

This is by and large a classic recipe with classic components like the crème anglaise. It is really one of my favorite sweet treats. It’s just egg yolks, sugar, vanilla seeds made into a velvety custard with hot milk. I have made this using my sous vide precision cooker many times but this time i went old school and made it in an old fashioned pot and whisk. It is so delicious that I can eat it by the spoonful.

Chestnuts are not as beloved in the US as they are elsewhere and that’s a shame. They have a rich nutty and sweet flavor with a great buttery texture. Here roasted chestnuts get cooked with heavy cream and vanilla for an hour or so. Then they get pureed along with a bit of the pear poaching liquid and strained to make a luscious smooth puree.

Custard-Chestnut

To complete the strudel I brushed 4 layers of filo with clarified butter and sprinkled each with sugar. I stacked them and cut them into strips a bit wider than the pear cylinders. I laid the cylinders on the filo and rolled them up to make neat packages. I baked these at 350 F until golden brown and let them cool slightly before serving.

Pears-Filo

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I plated the pear strudel and dusted it with a bit of powdered sugar. I poured some dollops of the custard next to it and each got a bit of reduced pear poaching liquid in the center. Then a scoop or thick smear of the chestnut puree went next to the strudel. This is a delicious dessert with contrasting textures, temperatures and flavors. I was a bit skeptical about how the chestnut puree would work with the rest of the dish other than that it has the perfect texture to hold the pear chips. However, it was delicious and added a great almost-savory accent to the dish along with a rich creamy texture.

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Lebanese Baklawa

 

 All of the Baklawa (or Baklava) versions are made with filo, a nut filling and a sweet syrup. However, what makes Lebanese Baklawa different than Greek or Turkish ones and – in my biased opinion 🙂 – better, are a few details. There should be no spice in the nut filling. No cinnamon, no cloves, no mace or nutmeg. The filling is just nuts, a little sugar and a pinch of salt. That’s all. Spices just distract from the flavor of the roasted nuts.

Lebanese Baklawa also does not have honey. No honey at all. Honey syrup makes it heavy and a bit cloying and again imparts its own flavor. This Baklawa is soaked in a syrup made from water, sugar and a couple of aromatic extracts namely rose water and orange blossom water. The first one is distilled from a specific kind of rose that is usually pink, not much to look at but so fragrant. The second one is distilled from the blossoms (flowers) of orange, preferably bitter (Seville) oranges.

Last but not least, there are only two layers of filo in a Baklawa. This is not a club sandwich. The construction should look like this: filo+nuts+filo. I’ve seen many versions that are more like filo+nuts+filo+nuts+filo. Not so good.

So, here it is. My favorite simple Baklawa recipe. This one is based on the recipe from Sonia Uvezian’s book Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Baklawa

  • 2 Cups chopped toasted walnuts
  • 0.5 to 1 Cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb filo pastry
  • 1 Cup clarified butter

Syrup

  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water 

Mix the nuts with the sugar and salt set aside. 

Generously brush a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with some of the butter. Lay half the filo sheets in the pan brushing each one with clarified butter as you put it in the pan. Spread the nuts mixture on the filo sheets and lay the rest of the filo on top, again brushing each one with the butter.

Preheat the oven to 350F. With a sharp knife cut the baklawa while in the pan into squares of about 2 inches. Place the pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 300F. Bake it for about an hour, or until a nice golden color and puffed a little bit.

While the baklawa bakes make the syrup by boiling the water, sugar and lemon juice together for about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the rosewater and orange blossom water. Let it cool slightly (this can be done a few days ahead and kept well covered at room temperature).

When the baklawa is out of the oven, pour on the syrup and allow it to soak through. Let it cool to room temperature and enjoy.