Moroccan Poached Pears & Prunes
This year's Cambridge charity blind date was The Great British Bake (Date)-Off themed, and my answer to my dream co-host was either Yotam Ottolenghi (surprise), or whoever will let me lick the spoon.
Licking the spoon is an underrated part of baking, and a right that I guard very deeply. If, between dolloping the batter onto the tray and sliding it into the oven, someone fills the batter-smeared bowl with dish soap and puts it in the sink, a significant chunk of the baking joy goes down the drain with it.
People say, "If it's not on Instagram, did you even bake?" Those around me know I take care of the photo part, often much to their annoyance, but I think we ought to say, "If you didn't lick the spoon, did you even bake?"
My mum baked banana chocolate chip muffins in the morning and I had the all-important role of chopping up dark chocolate-covered almonds, eating the little flakes of chocolate that broke off (you need nice whole pieces for the batter so someone needs to take care of the rejects, right?), and of course licking the spoon.
That would have been a satisfying enough Saturday, but then my mum discovered a Moroccan dessert recipe from Le Tobsil in Marrakech that seemed too perfect to pass up, particularly when paired with a noodle dish called "chaariya medfouna", noodles with a hidden surprise. For the record, all three of these recipes came from a Food & Wine issue from May 2010, a goldmine throwback.
The syrup put any cookie or muffin batter to shame.
I probably reduced it down more than I needed to, but I have absolutely no regrets.
It turned thick and shiny and caramelly, the kind that forms a ball on your tongue and lines the roof of your mouth, that sticks to your teeth momentarily and gives you the joy of sweeping your tongue into the nooks and crannies to get every last bit. The orange flesh, soaked with the spicy sweet liquid, turned into a gooey toffee, I pulled every fibre away from the skin, allowing it to disintegrate bite by bite. The orange skin itself, soft, tangy, and sweet, would put haribo out of business. The syrup stuck to the spoon, crystallized around the bowl, and was so photogenic that I had no choice but to pause my dissertation reading and take photos of it. All procrastination is for the greater good.
The completed dessert was more than the sum of its parts, and every bite was a surprise that made me close my eyes and try to capture flavours swimming around so as not to forget them. The syrup was dreamy, but the kind of treat that would get overwhelming after a while. The light, soft, citrus-soaked pears formed a fresh base that held everything together; the prunes – usually concentratedly sweet like gummy candy – were toned down and broken down by the poaching, rendering them deep and mellow to complement the pears; the buttery pastry was the wholesome part that cut through the sweetness and kept the dish grounded; and while all these elements carried the sweetness and spices hidden delicately inside them, the viscous syrup was there to coat them and tease out all the flavours in one concentrated hit.
I can't say I was super productive apart from this, but this is the last summer before the Real World (a moment's silence, please). Sooooo go have a pointless day, flip through an old magazine or recipe book, whip up something yum– whether it's good old chocolate chip cookies or an exciting new dessert – and be sure to lick the spoon.