Dressing for autumn is all about layering.
This dessert is that homey favorite, fruit and whipped cream stacked shortcakes, layered in fall flavors — pears, clove, star anise, brown sugar, and chai, which, not for nothing, easily equates with October tastes. The Indian tea classically made with honey, milk and spices, chai is everywhere now, but with an ingredient list like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and black pepper, it’s a useful accessory to the autumn repertoire.
The biscuity shortcakes here are baked with a chai tea-infused cream. I simply heated the 11/2 cups of cream, and put in two generic chai-flavored tea bags from the grocery store, allowing it to steep, and therefore cool, for about a half-hour. In truth, I had hoped to steep the tea in the warmed cream, chill it, and then whip it, but I learned that when heating milk or cream the proteins that facilitate volume are denatured, or restructured. Heated cream, even chilled later, will not whip.
Quatre epices, a classic French spice mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger (Mix together your own if you don’t have “quatre epices” in your spice drawer.) is added to the biscuit dough; these are crumbly, scone-like shortcakes that smell like Russell Orchards in Ipswich when its bakers are making cider donuts.
A half of a tea-poached Bosc pear — caramel brown, roundly seductive — lies upon a halved shortcake. Cinnamon-flavored whipped cream robes it. The other shortcake half covers, and a syrup of the reduced poaching liquid gives everything a good soak.
Homey, autumnal, this dessert is a tower of layered flavors and textures, but its components are all surprisingly light; it’s not a dense tweedy fall dessert like applesauce cake; it’s more camel hair and cashmere.
Chai Pear Shortcakes