Poached pears with crème pâtissière, dark chocolate and almonds

by Derek Johnstone, Head Chef at Borthwick Castle

From wild mushrooms and hearty root vegetables to Scottish brambles and berries, autumn brings with it a whole range of delicious ingredients which really come into their own at this time of year. As the nights draw in and the clocks go back (next Sunday, readers – don’t forget!), it’s time to turn our attention to crisp, crunchy, seasonal fruits such as apples, quince and pears.

I’ve recently been working with gardener Pete Jackson to redevelop the walled garden at Borthwick Castle. One of our first priorities – after the space had been cleared of overgrown bushes and we’d stood in awe of the garden’s sheer space and the opportunity it presented – was to plan for a little orchard of apple and pear trees to be planted around the garden walls. My vision was to create an outdoor space that could supply the Borthwick Castle kitchen, so we can grow as much of our fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs as possible on site and reduce the kitchen’s food miles.

Pears are among my favourite fruits, and I rely on them a great deal for cooking at this time of year – not only in the Castle, but at home too. Williams pears can be found in shops all year, but they really are at their best from October through to January. Although they’ve had a slow start to the season, over the last couple of weeks they’ve become beautifully ripe, yellow in colour and ready to eat.

Today I’m sharing a tasty yet relatively simple dessert recipe with you, centred around this fantastic fruit. This dessert is very light yet deliciously rich at the same time – the perfect ending to any special meal this autumn.


For the vanilla poached pears:

8 Williams pears

150g caster sugar

250ml water

2 vanilla pods (split and with the seeds scraped out)

1 cinnamon stick

Juice of 1 orange

For the caramelised almonds:

50g sugar

50g golden syrup

25g ground almonds

25g plain flour

50g unsalted butter

For the dark chocolate mousse:

100g dark chocolate (I like to use Valrhona 68% dark chocolate)

80ml water

10g sugar

70ml cream

For the pear crème pâtissière:

150g pear puree

25ml cream

90g caster sugar

6g gelatine

15g corn flour

6 egg whites

5 egg yolks


For the vanilla poached pears:

1. Add the sugar, water, vanilla, orange juice and cinnamon stick to a pan and bring to the boil.

2. Add the peeled pears and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened but not falling apart. Leave to cool and set aside.

For the caramelised almonds:

1. Preheat your oven to 150°C.

2. Heat the butter, sugar and syrup until the mixture is gently bubbling, then add the almonds.

3. Pour the caramelised almond mixture onto a non-stick baking tray and cook in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and set aside.

For the dark chocolate mousse:

1. Heat the water with the sugar and bring to the boil.

2. Pour over the chocolate, mix together and leave to cool.

3. Add the chocolate mixture to the cream and whip until a light and fluffy chocolate mousse has been made.

4. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the pear crème pâtissière:

1. In a bowl, cover the gelatine in cold water and leave to soak.

2. Boil the pear puree along with the cream, then add the gelatine.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the corn flour, egg yolks and 20g of the caster sugar. Pour over the pear and gelatine mixture, then return to the pan and cook until the crème pâtissière has thickened.

4. Pass through a sieve.

5. Whip the egg whites and the remaining 70g of sugar until it reaches the consistency of a meringue, then fold it into the cooled crème pâtissière.

To assemble the dish:

To serve, assemble the poached pears around the crème pâtissière, and top with the caramelised almonds. Serve with a generous portion of dark chocolate mousse and garnish with candied orange peel (optional).