Episode 5, GBBO 2014, technical challenge

Mini Pear Pies

These mini pear pies remind me of apple dumplings, but with a twist! Instead of being wrapped in a sheet of pastry, these poached pears are surrounded by a long thin spiral of rough puff, which makes the texture light and delicate. 

As Paul Hollywood said when he set this challenge before the bakers in the Great White Tent, it’s all about the timing. The pears must be perfectly poached and chilled before the pastry is applied, or it will fall off while they’re baking — which is why I decided to poach my pears before making the pastry, to give them time to cool. This may or may not have been a good idea, since rough puff pastry needs multiple intervals of chilling in the fridge between folds. If I had to adhere to the two-hour limit the contestants were given, I probably would have started my pastry first, which is what they all did.

Since I also had the advantage of using Paul’s complete recipe, this bake was pretty straightforward. I poached the peeled pears in a simmering mixture of white wine, sugar, water, cinnamon and orange zest. Once they were cool enough to handle, I removed the seeds and lower core with a melon baller (a sharp knife also helped), leaving the stem intact. I then reduced the remaining poaching liquid by boiling it down to a syrup.

Lamination is all in the folds.

Meanwhile, I made the rough puff pastry by grating frozen lard and frozen butter into the flour and adding just enough water to form a firm dough. It’s important not to overmix the dough; you should still see streaks of butter when you roll it out. That will help to make sure you get good lamination in your pastry. Lamination basically refers to the layers that are formed when the fat in the dough melts, creating steam, which then evaporates, leaving pockets of air between layers of soft, flaky pastry.

To create those layers, I rolled out the dough into a rectangle, folded in thirds, turned it 90 degrees, then rolled and folded it again. Then I let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before going through the rolling, folding and turning again. This is repeated at least four times. Each time it’s rolled out and folded is called a turn.

Once the dough has been through enough turns and is well-chilled, it’s time to roll it out again. This time, I rolled it into a long rectangle, about 8 inches wide and 24 inches long. It should only be about ¼-inch thick. I then cut the rectangle into long strips about 3/8-inch wide.

To cover the pears, I first brushed them with the cooled syrup. Then I stood them up on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Starting at the bottom of each pear, I wrapped a long strip of pastry all around the pear, covering it completely. When I came to the end of one strip, I brushed the end lightly with syrup and pressed the end of another strip onto it, then continued wrapping. Each pear took about three strips to cover.

With the leftover pastry dough, I cut out six leaf shapes, using a knife to engrave veins in the leaves. I brushed a little syrup on the back of each leaf and attached one to the top of each pear. Finally, I brushed the pastry-covered pears with beaten egg and sprinkled them with sugar for a little added sparkle, then popped them in the oven.

When they were nice and golden brown, I took them out of the oven and drizzled them with syrup. They’re best served warm, and if you add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the dish, your guests (or your family!) will sing your praises!

You will find Paul’s recipe here, but I’ve adapted it for American bakers below.

Paul Hollywood’s Mini Pear Pies

Credit: BBC.co.uk

For the rough puff pastry:

  • 1½ c. + 2 T. all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 3½ oz. (7 T.) butter, frozen
  • 3½ oz. lard, frozen
  • ½ c. cold water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 T. sugar
    • For the poached pears:

      • 6 large, firm pears that are tall and straight (I used Bosc)
      • 1¾ c. water
      • 1 1/3 c. sugar
      • 2¼ c. dry white wine
      • 2 cinnamon sticks
      • Zest of 1 orange


        1. For the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl, and using a box grater, grate the butter and lard into the flour. Use a knife to coat the butter and lard in the flour. Gradually add the cold water, mixing until it comes together to form a firm dough.
        2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry into a rectangle. Fold the top third down and then fold the bottom third up and over the top third. Turn it 90 degrees (a quarter turn), and repeat the rolling and folding. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
        3. Repeat the rolling, folding and chilling twice more, so you have a total of four folds and turns. Wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to use.
        4. To poach the pears, peel them, keeping the stems intact. Put the sugar into a large saucepan with the water, the white wine, cinnamon and orange zest, and slowly bring it to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for three minutes, then add the pears to the pan. Bring the liquid back to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Reserving the syrup, use a slotted spoon to remove the pears from the pan, and set them on parchment paper to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, use a melon baller or small sharp knife to remove the bottom of the core and seeds from the pears.
        5. Return the syrup to the heat and boil rapidly for 10-15 minutes until the volume of the liquid is reduced by half and the syrup is thick. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
        6. When the fruit and syrup are cool, roll out the chilled pastry to a rectangle measuring 24 inches by 8 inches and a thickness of no more than ¼ inch. Using a sharp knife (or a pizza cutter) and a ruler, cut the pastry lengthwise into 18-20 strips about 3/8-inch wide.
        7. Brush the pears with the cooled syrup and, starting from the bottom of each pear, wrap a pastry strip around each one, entirely covering the pear. When you come to the end of one pastry strip, brush the end lightly with syrup and press the end of another pastry strip onto it. Continue wrapping until you reach the top of the pear. (It should take about three strips to cover each pear.) Tuck the end of the last pastry piece behind the previous dough spiral, cutting off any excess.
        8. With the remaining pastry, cut out six leaf shapes. Draw veins on the leaves with a sharp knife. Brush the back of each leaf with syrup and stick one on each pastry-covered pear, right below the stem.
        9. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the pears on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Brush the pastry-covered pears with the beaten egg and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve with a drizzle of the reduced sugar syrup.

        Next week: A Three-Tier Pie Tower


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