When considering the approach of spring – the air lighter, the days longer, Easter delightfully on the horizon – pudding springs to mind. And, after recent years imbued with what shall remain nameless, it’s time, I think, for an extravagance: a tumble of meringues studded with hazelnuts, layered with pears, bronzed in caramel, infused with lemon and vanilla, and with ample cream, custard and ice-cream. It will make a splendid appearance at a table of good folk.
Hazelnut meringue with caramelised pears
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
Cool 2 hr +
For the meringue
130g shelled hazelnuts
10 egg whites
500g caster sugarsplit between two bowls
For the pears
4 comice pears, peeled, cored and quartered
Juice of 1 lemon
1 vanilla podsplit and seeds scraped out
100g caster sugar
For the caramel syrup
120g caster sugar
For the cinnamon custard
1 cinnamon stick
250ml whole milk
4 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
50ml double cream
100ml double creamlightly whipped
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 and line two oven trays with baking paper. Put the nuts on one tray, roast for eight to 10 minutes, until golden, then tip into a clean cloth and rub to remove the skins. Coarsely grind or chop the nuts, and set aside 20g for later.
In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, then beat in half the sugar in a steady shower until stiff peaks form again. Fold in the remaining sugar and the remaining 110g chopped nuts, then spoon half the mix onto each tray and spread into two 28cm circles. Transfer to the hot oven and immediately lower the temperature to 120C (110C fan)/250F/gas low. Bake for an hour until pale golden, then remove and leave to cool completely. Don’t worry about any cracks – they will be concealed when the meringues are dressed.
Meanwhile, put the pears and lemon juice in a wide bowl, toss to coat, then stir in the vanilla pod and seeds.
Have ready a wide dish by the stove. Put a wide-bottomed pan on a medium heat. Scatter in the sugar and, wrapping the handle in a cloth, shake the pan until the sugar evenly covers the base; keep shaking as it colours. Carefully lay in the pears, then gently shake again. Boil, stirring gently, for eight to 10 minutes, until evenly bronzed. Tip the pears and vanilla pod into the waiting dish, leave to cool, then remove the vanilla pod. (Rinse it, then leave to dry and, some time later on, steep in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.)
Put the sugar for the syrup in a pan on a medium heat. Move the pan gently until it’s bubbling at the edges then carefully swirl until it’s an even caramel colour. Once a uniform caramel is made, take off the heat, put on a stand, retreat slightly and, covering your hand with a cloth, pour in 75ml water; stand back until the spluttering subsides, then leave to bubble gently for a minute, until a syrup forms. Cool, then pour into a small jug.
For the custard, put the cinnamon and milk in a pan on a medium heat and bring slowly to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Remove the cinnamon stick, then slowly stir the infused milk into the egg yolks. Pour back into the pan, return to the heat and stir until the custard thickens but does not boil. Off the heat, stir in the cream, then cover and chill.
To assemble the pudding, carefully loosen the cooled meringues from the baking paper, and lift one on to a plate that’s wider than the meringue. Drop half the whipped cream on top, followed by two-thirds of the pears. Pour over two-thirds of the syrup and add a scoop of ice-cream. Top with the second meringue, then repeat the layers, this time finishing with the custard, so it runs between the fruit and cream, and pools around the meringue. Strew with the reserved 20g hazelnuts, dust with icing sugar and serve.