Friday, February 25, 2011

Blue Cheese Walnut Biscuits with Pear Compote and Cream

The few months I spent working alongside a cheesemonger are among my most fond memories in the culinary world. Learning about cheese production and sampling incredible artisanal products from the best American and European regions was a wonderful excursion, working on pairings a complete pleasure. Being in the company of a cheesemonger who had an inordinate passion for quality made it a real journey of the senses. When a new shipment of cheese would arrive, he and I would look at each other with the excitement of little children on Christmas morning, anticipating the heady aromas and anxious to get our hands on beautiful packages exquisitely wrapped with the unique expression of the giver.

This dessert reminds us of the wonderful friendship of blue cheese and pears. I love pears so much that I’m always trying to think of new things to do with them while still preserving their fresh and delicate perfume. This is an easy dessert that presents all the delicious qualities of beautiful pears reclining on a pillow of luxurious cream atop a super tender biscuit flavored with blue cheese.

Although the dessert has three different components, the biscuits come together very quickly in a food processor, the less handling the better. The mixture looks like a pile of crumbs about the size of barley grains and all you need to do is gently coax them together by pressing them into a round. Cut them out and they are baked in about 13 to 15 minutes. If your pears are sufficiently ripe, they are ready in just a very few minutes. Whisk some heavy cream and you’re all the way there.

I use ripe but firm Bartlett pears for their lovely soft texture and Bleu d'Auvergne cheese for its relatively mild but sumptuous blue flavor. Bleu d'Auvergne is an Appelation d'Origine Controlée (controlled designation of origin) cow’s milk cheese from the Auvergne region in south-central France. Its origins trace back to the middle of the 19th century and it’s a cheese that goes particularly well with dessert wines. It's pretty firm but still delectably creamy and I think these two pair very well. The biscuits offer a chewy morsel to support the pears, which are bathed in a delectably light syrup of honey, water and a spritz of lemon. The cream is simply whipped and slathered generously to bridge the textures. Taken together, this becomes a very fun way to explore and savor the pure nature of each.

Bench notes:
- To toast walnuts, place them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. They should brown slightly and give off a lovely toasty fragrance.
- The pears should be ripe but not mushy. The amount of time you simmer them will depend on their ripeness, so check them after just a few minutes.
- If your blue cheese is salty, reduce the salt in the biscuits to just a pinch.
- I used a 2 1/2” biscuit cutter and I got 6 biscuits. Space them a couple of inches apart on the baking sheet because they expand to a finished diameter of 3 1/2”.
- Once you add the buttermilk, do your best not to handle the dough too much. It will toughen the finished product. Gently press and pat the dough into a solid mass, do not knead it.
- The biscuits are very tender and fragile, so be sure to let them cool completely before handling.
- These biscuits would also be really good with fresh fig slices in this syrup or perhaps a sweetened red wine reduction.
- Another way to serve is to make a trifle of sorts, layering crumbled biscuit, whipped cream, fruit and syrup in parfait glasses.
- If you don’t care for blue cheese, try the pears and syrup with Cinnamon Pecan Biscuits and substitute walnuts if you prefer.
- If you’re a pear lover, try the super delicious Pears in Honey Pine Nut Caramel with Artisanal Cheese or creamy Pear Pots de Crème. If you enjoy the combination of blue cheese and fruit, consider the unusually tasty Blue Cheese Cookies with Fresh Fig Jam.

Blue Cheese Walnut Biscuits with Pears and Cream

Serves 6

1/2 C mild honey
1/4 C+ 2 T water
1 – 2 t fresh lemon juice, to taste
3 - 4 fresh ripe Bartlett pears

1 C + 2 T flour
pinch to 1/8 t salt, depending on the salt level of the blue cheese
3 T sugar
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/3 C toasted walnuts (about 1 oz)
2 oz (4 T) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 C + 2 T blue cheese, crumbled into small pieces
1/4 C + 2 T cold buttermilk

To coat the tops of the biscuits:
2 T + 2 t toasted walnuts (about 1/2 oz), chopped fine
1 T sugar
1/2 T butter, melted

1 C heavy cream

To prepare the pears, combine the honey and water in a saucepan and simmer to dissolve. Add the lemon juice and remove from heat. Peel, core and slice the pears and place in the honey syrup as you go to prevent browning. Return to low and gently simmer for a few minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool, spooning the syrup over the fruit every now and then to coat.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.

Prepare the biscuit top coating by finely chopping the 2 T + 2 t toasted walnuts and tossing with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside. Melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

For the biscuit mix, place the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and 1/3 cup of toasted walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the cold butter pieces and the crumbled blue cheese and pulse in short bursts about 10 times. Do not overmix. Add the buttermilk all at once and pulse another 10 times. The mixture should look like very coarse meal rather than clumps of dough. Work quickly so the butter stays cold and firm.

Pour the crumbly mixture onto a clean work surface or a piece of parchment and gently gather, patting and pressing it together with your hands. Do not knead. Shape it into a round about 3/4” thick. Use a 2 1/2” round cutter dipped in flour to cut out 6 biscuits. Place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet at least 2” apart. Brush the tops with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle with the walnut sugar mixture, pressing down gently to secure the nuts. Bake about 13-15 minutes, until the biscuits are lightly golden. Cool completely before handling.

Whip the cream to a very soft peak. It should dollop loosely.

Cut the biscuits in half horizontally. Dollop with some whipped cream, layer with pears and garnish with plenty of syrup.


Anonymous said...

You are the Coco Chanel of pastry. Everything about :pastrystudio is simply beautiful.

Pears are lovely, aren't they? I love them with tallegio cheese, and I love Nigella's Poire Belle Helene.

I can't wait to try this recipe. Again, pears - a fruit I can get. I even have a pear tree, although it is now covered in snow.

michelle said...

This looks lovely. I just had pears that were slowly roasted in the oven in a honey glaze until they were translucent and almost candied. Amazing with cheese.

Anonymous said...

Cheese is something I would really like to explore further (even more than wine). Whenever I am in London, I like to go to La Formagerie and order a cheese plate and read all about the cheeses I am eating. Fascinating.

Anonymous said...

This sounds divine and in my book there are few fragrances and flavours more enticing or elusive than those of ripe fresh pears. My truly serious question is how one chooses the right fruit. In our geographical region, no matter the store or time of year, 99% of the pears are so hard and lacking in natural aroma that I don't buy them to eat fresh. Will this recipe work using such fruit?


pastry studio said...

Anonymous, thank you for your very sweet comment! Yes, Tallegio is really great with pears. Oh, to have a pear tree!

In addition to all the classics, some of my favorite cheese off the top of my head:

the total dreamy pleasure that is Alma Gourmet Robiola de Bosina Della Langa (really sweet little label, too!)
Abbaye De Belloc
Bleu De Basque
Grafton Classic Reserve Cheddar
Cypress Humboldt Fog
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Cana Cabra

Delicious stuff.

Michelle, your pears sound like heaven! Thanks very much for mentioning.

foodieinberlin, what a beautiful place to explore.

OhEss, what a shame that your markets don't have a better selection. Have you tried Bartletts? They ripen very rapidly, turning yellow and soft in just a couple of days. I use them at peak aroma and when they give just every so minutely. You can't let them go too long because they can take on a bit of bitterness and graininess. If you don't have access to those, then I think you'll have to take whichever type you can find and steam them in the syrup for a longer time. You probably won't have maximum flavor but maybe it's worth a testing with one pear and half the syrup? Let me know if you try it.

Ashley said...

Wow these cookies looks so delicious.
I'm bookmarking these to try this weekend.

Emily said...

Your food photos are amazing! I’ve been lurking on your blog for awhile and finally thought I’d say something…. your photography is excellent.

eatlovedrink said...

This looks incredible! Pears + blue cheese + walnuts and still light and fresh. I'm so excited to try it out!

Hillary said...

This is next on my pastry studio must do list. I'm wondering about a few substitutions: do you think I could use hazelnuts instead of walnuts? Also I've got just the right amount of leftover stilton, would that work for the dough? Thank you!

pastry studio said...

Hillary, I haven't tried it but I think Stilton and hazelnuts would be fantastic. Just be sure to process the nuts with the dry ingredients until they are very fine and be careful not to process too much after you add the butter and Stilton and buttermilk. And check the saltiness of your cheese. Hope it works out to a delicious finish!

Hillary said...

I've been meaning to write you: the substitutions worked out great. The combination of Stilton and hazelnuts made for an unexpected and luscious biscuit. As you said, they were fragile but I was prepared. I'll keep this one in mind for the autumn!

pastry studio said...

Hillary, thanks so much for reporting back. Your mixture sounds absolutely amazing. I will definitely have to try it.

Elizabeth said...

Just wanted to thank you for the idea of these blue cheese biscuits. I made bite-sized ones to serve with smoked salmon and some pickled spring vegetables. I cut the sugar and upped the salt a bit for a savory effect. Wonderful!

pastry studio said...

Elizabeth, that sounds delicious! Great that this worked for your purpose as well.