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
For the Poached Pears
3 Bosc pears
Tea to cover (rooibos, chai, or any tea with spice)
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
Halve pears and cut out core and seeds.
Heat tea with brown sugar, cinnamon stick and star anise in a medium saucepan to dissolve sugar.
Add pear halves, and cook until tender, approximately ten minutes.
Steep pears in tea for at least a half hour.
Remove pears to a bowl, and reheat tea to a simmer. Cook until reduced by half, or until thickened. Remove cinnamon stick and anise, and reserve this syrup to cover shortcakes.
2 tea bags chai tea, optional
11/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon quatre epices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ground clove, and ginger)
Heat the cream to scalding, and add the tea bags, if using, to steep. Allow to cool. If not using the tea, there is no need to heat the cream.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, quatre epices, and salt in a large bowl. Add the cooled cream and mix until just combined.
Drop mounds of dough approximately 1/4 to 1/3 cup large onto the pan.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until crispy and brown on top.
Remove shortcakes from pan and place on a rack to cool slightly.
Split each shortcake in half horizontally.
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip cream in a mixer until just before soft peaks are formed.
Add cinnamon, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla.
Finish beating until fluffy.
To assemble the dessert
Lay a pear half and some of its syrup onto each plated shortcake bottom.
Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and then the shortcake top.
Spoon more syrup over the top of biscuit and serve.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought column weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.