Hands down, poached pears are more elegant than baked apples. No wrinkled skins on the pears, delicate stems intact, an infusion of red coloring rising up the flesh, and more depth in the spices that complement them. But, baked apples smell cozy and comforting, and look even better when you select a crisp variety, peel the top neatly and take it out of the oven before the skin separates too much from the flesh. Both fruits make great matches for red or white dessert wines, depending on the syrup.
I poached Bosc, Bartlett and Chinese pears in dry red wine, lemon zest, a vanilla bean, sugar, peppercorns and a bay leaf. The Bosc pear has the best-looking profile – tall and bell-shaped. The Chinese pear has the most delightfully crunchy texture and lovely spherical shape. The Bartlett is also bell-like, with a more pungent flavor. The poaching liquid could also be flavored with cardamom, star anise, cloves, cinnamon or ginger. The poached pears were outstanding with Parmesan cheese, Gorgonzola, walnuts and pistachios. And, they make a splendid accompaniment to Bouquet Red Dessert Wine, which also has rich black fruit flavors and subtle pepper undertones.
I baked a variety of apples in two different syrups – spiced apple cider and sweetened white wine. My favorite apple was Russet, which has an unattractive greenish-brown skin, but loads of flavor. My least favorite was Rome, which is large and eye-catching, but had a less pleasant texture. Soft fruit turns mushy when cooked because of its high malic acid content. Gala and Golden Delicious apples both turned out well. The cider syrup version had cinnamon, brown sugar, a vanilla bean and lemon zest. The cinnamon clashed with the Gewurztraminer in the White Dessert Wine but went will Bouquet Red Dessert Wine because of the complimentary berry flavors. The apples baked in cider syrup, with their Mom-and-apple-pie flavors, also went very well Cheddar cheese and walnuts. The more subtle flavor of the white wine syrup, made with dry white wine, sugar and lemon, was an excellent pair with the White Dessert Wine, and also lovely with almonds.