Anyone who has ever cooked boiled custard or made a rice pudding can make a success with the elaborate-looking dessert shown on the opposite page. This fanciful product of French haute cuisine is known as pears √† la Marie-Anne. Designed to be served ice cold, it furnishes a dazzling climax to a summer dinner party.
The center of the dish is simply extra-rich rice pudding, molded and chilled. This mold is surrounded with pears which have been lightly poached in vanilla syrup to remove their skins (the same as dropping tomatoes into boiling water for a minute or so in order to skin them) and then cored. The final touches that make the dish look and taste beautiful—the glazing of the pears and the combining of jams and liqueur into a surrounding sauce—are not nearly so demanding as the concoction of a fancy salad. It all takes time, admittedly. But the result, contrasting the delicate textures and flavors of fruit jams and almost-raw pears with the velvety-rich rice and chewy nuggets of candied fruit, will more than justify the effort spent in the preparation.
Pears poached in the manner described can be wedded to a variety of alluring concomitants, such as thick chocolate sauce and whipped cream (pears √† la dame blanche) or an underlay of black currant ice cream with an overlay of raspberry sauce and grilled almonds (pears belle dijonnaise). Here is one member of a whole family of deliriously wonderful Gallic inventions:
PEARS A LA MARIE-ANNE
This recipe serves eight. The rice mold, called riz √† l'impératrice in France, can be prepared, if desired, a day ahead.
Ingredients for rice mold
¼ cup long-grain unprocessed rice
¼ cup granulated sugar
small pieces vanilla bean (or strong vanilla extract)
4 yolks of egg
1 pint plus one tablespoon of milk
1 envelope gelatin, dissolved in cold water
2 rounds of candied pineapple and 10 candied cherries (or equivalent candied fruit of any sort)
1‚⅛ cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Preparation of the rice
Blanch rice by throwing without rinsing into boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain. Place rice in enamel pan with 1‚Öì cups of the milk and a piece of vanilla bean. Set on an asbestos pad over medium fire; stir constantly till milk is absorbed (about 20 minutes). Remove from stove and reserve.
Start a custard by beating the egg yolks and adding the granulated sugar and the rest of the milk. Place mixture in top part of a double boiler with a small piece of vanilla bean. Cook, stirring till custard coats spoon (about 15 minutes). Remove vanilla bean pieces from both the rice and the custard mixtures, and combine these, mixing in the gelatin. (If vanilla bean has not been used, at this point add vanilla extract to taste.) Allow mixture to cool, but do not refrigerate.
Meanwhile, dice the candied fruits. Whip the cream, adding confectioners' sugar when it is half whipped. Fold the whipped cream and diced fruits into the cooled rice-custard mixture. Pack into a 1-qt. mold, oiled with vegetable oil. Place in refrigerator till set, or overnight.
Ingredients for pears and trimmings
8 raw pears
2 cups sugar
small piece vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1‚Öì cups apricot preserves or purée, plus½ cup quince or raspberry jelly (to glaze pears)
For the sauce, choice of:
1) red or black Swiss cherry jam, 2) red plum preserves containing pieces of plum, or 3) canned pitted black Bing cherries mixed with black raspberry jam
Choice of liqueur for flavoring, such as any orange liqueur, kirsch or mirabelle
Candied cherries and, if desired, angelica cut in the shape of leaves, for decoration
½ cup cream, whipped
Preparation of the pears
Rinse pears. Boil sugar and vanilla with four quarts of water for 10 minutes. Then lower pears, two at a time, into syrup, which should be kept just simmering. Poach pears 2 or 3 minutes or until skins can be easily removed. Cook pears as little as possible and skin quickly, squeezing lemon juice over them so that the fruit does not darken. Core from the blossom end.
Meanwhile, melt apricot jam and jelly together; pass through a strainer and chill. When almost cold, spoon this glazing mixture over the pears on a platter. Chill again, reserving the excess of glaze.
Unmold rice on middle of serving platter. Take a thin slice off one side of each glazed pear so fruit will lean against rice mound as in picture. Put more glaze on pears if needed. Surround the pears with any desired mixture of jams, slightly thinned and well flavored with liqueur. Decorate the dish as desired, with candied fruit, angelica, and swirls or points of whipped cream.