Vanilla & Star Anise Poached Pear Compote
Inspired by “From Simple to Spectacular” by Jean George Vongerichten and Mark Bittman
4 pears, preferably Anjou
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans
1 star anise seeds
1. Peel and core the pears. Combine the sugar and 5 cups of water in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Split the vanilla beans the long way and scrape out the seeds; add both seeds and pods along with star anise to the water. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
2. Add the pears and adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles, but n ot too vigorously. Cook for 8 minutes, or until a thin-blade knife inserted into the pears meets with little resistance.
3. Let the pears cool in the liquid for 30 to 60 minutes (an hour longer is okay too; do not refrigerate).
4. When cooled, finely dice the pears.
5. Reserve and strain the cooking liquid. Boil until reduced to a thickish syrup – about 20 minutes and let come to room temperature. Serve with the pears as a side to the cake.
Note: the leftover syrup is PERFECT for an infusion for a Christmasy cocktail with vodka and seltzer and a tiny slice of pear.