Sugar High Friday was a bit of a challenge for me this month. I returned to Weight Watchers two weeks ago, and after last week’s disappointment I really wanted to stick to the program perfectly this week. So this month’s theme—nuts—selected and hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant, gave me pause. But wait a minute, you’re saying, this event is called SUGAR HIGH FRIDAY. Of course it’s hard to do it on Weight Watchers. True enough, but nuts are an especially difficult ingredient to use when trying to lose weight. They’re packed with fat and calories (and yes, I understand that it’s the “good” fat, but still…it’s all about calories in/calories expended, and making sure the former is less than the latter). Making a dessert based on them would almost certainly yield something I could only eat in teeny weeny portions. And let’s face it, folks: my self-control sucks. If I made something nut-based, I’d eat a LOT of it. Hence, the challenge: to create a dessert that takes full advantage of nuts’ wonderful taste qualities, but is still friendly to my waistline. The answer: fruit.
Cooked fruit pairs with nuts beautifully, the soft, succulent morsels playing off nuts’ crunchy earthiness, and on the WW plan I’m following, fresh fruit is unlimited. At this time of year, the produce aisle overflows with apples and pears, mostly, and since we’ve already had an apple-based SHF, I thought I’d give pears a shot. I knew I had some pecans, which complement pears perfectly, some Poire William (a pear-based liqueur), and an unopened jar of fat-free Caramel Sauce (my only nod to expedience—I could’ve made the caramel, too, but I’m just too lazy).
OK, so I had my basic ingredients. But how to combine them? At first I thought some kind of oatmeal-based crisp, maybe tossing in some cranberries, too, but I feared that the topping would cost too many WW points (their accounting method for higher-fat, more binge-inducing foods). Poached pears are lovely, but I’ve made them before. I wanted to try something new, to introduce a new technique to my healthy-cooking repertoire. I’d often read about roasting fruits—my recipe clippings binder has several varieties, but I’ve never tried any of them. They say the high, dry heat caramelizes the sugars in the fruit, raising its sweetness level and elevating it to an elegant dessert. It seemed like the ideal solution. I envisioned a sundae of sorts, with a scoop of vanilla low-fat ice cream topped by chunks of roasted pear, toasted nuts, and a Poire William caramel sauce. But the dry pear chunks didn’t feel right to me as a sundae topping—such toppings are usually wet. In order for it to work, they’d have to be mixed into the sauce, which seemed likely to dilute the taste effect of roasting. Instead, I made the pears the base of the dessert, topped with a small scoop of yogurt, some nuts, and the caramel sauce.
One problem still remained. If the theme of SHF is nuts, it seemed like a bit of a cop-out to just add some toasted nuts to the top of a fruit-based dish. This was hardly a nut recipe I was creating. Something must be done to those beautiful pecans, I decided. A glaze of some kind would work—it would add calories, yes, but since so few would be used on each serving I thought I could get away with it. I pulled out my well-worn copy of The New Doubleday Cookbook, knowing that the nuts section would likely be thorough and interesting. It did not disappoint. In the end, I downscaled their recipe for Sugar & Spiced Nuts and added a few extra spices. And thank heavens I did downscale it—the finished nuts were so delicious that if I’d made more than ½ cup of them, I’d have nibbled on them all day!
So here, then, is the recipe. For those of you on Weight Watchers, it comes out to 5 points per serving. Eminently doable for a special occasion, or just a rewarding end to points-free dinner. Plus, everything holds beautifully—S and I ate the leftovers the next day, and they tasted great.
Roasted Pears with Sugar & Spiced Pecans and Poire William Caramel Sauce
For the Pears:
8 ripe pears [I used Bosc], peeled, cut in half, and cored [a melon baller works well]
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray [you could also use 1T. melted butter, but the calorie/points count would go up a bit]
For the Sugar & Spiced Pecans:
5 T. sugar
2 ½ T. water
½ T. light corn syrup
¼ t. vanilla
1/8 t. each cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup toasted pecan halves [walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and hazelnuts would all work here, too]
For the Poire William Caramel Sauce:
1/4 cup prepared caramel sauce
2 T. Poire William liqueur
1 pint Low-fat or Fat-Free vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream
Roast the pears:
Preheat the oven to 450. Spray a baking dish or jelly roll pan large enough to hold the pears with the ICBINB spray, or brush with some of the melted butter. Place the pears in the dish cut side down, and spray them lightly or brush with the remaining melted butter.
Roast on the center rack for 45-55 minutes, turning the pears cut-side up halfway through, until they are tender.
While the pears are roasting, prepare the nuts:
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and set aside. Place sugar, water, syrup, and salt in a small heavy saucepan; insert candy thermometer. [If you don’t have one—I don’t—not to worry. Keep reading.] Heat and stir over moderate heat until sugar dissolves, reduce heat slightly, and cook, uncovered, without stirring, to 240 degrees. [For those without a candy thermometer: This is what’s called “soft-ball stage,” which means that when you drop a tiny bit into very cold water it forms a soft, pliable ball. It took mine about 12 minutes to reach this point, though your mileage may vary.]
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and spices. Add nuts. Stir to coat, and pour onto the wax paper-lined baking sheet. Spread out into a single layer and let cool until hard.
Break apart, separating into individual nuts.
Prepare the Sauce:
In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the caramel sauce and the liqueur. Cook, stirring, until combined and heated through. Set aside.
Place two pear halves on each plate. Top with a small scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt, three or four candied pecan halves, and drizzle with caramel sauce.