When I worked in France, I would visit a lovely little bakery once a week to buy a tart filled with a really amazing walnut cream, with poached glazed pears on top. It was such a joy to eat that I wanted to give you a recipe based on these flavours – the combination is fantastic. At Christmas time, it’s nice to use chestnuts instead of walnuts, or you could even bash up or grate some good-quality chocolate to sprinkle over the pears as well.
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas 7. Score down the length of the vanilla pod and remove the seeds by scraping a knife down the inside of each half. Put the pears into a tight-fitting ovenproof pot or pan, add the 125g of sugar, wine, vanilla pod and seeds, and the peel and juice of 1 orange and bring to the boil. Sprinkle over half the walnuts and then put in the oven to bake. Every so often, baste the pears with the syrup they are cooking in, as this will give them a nice glaze. Cook for around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness, until the pears are tender but still holding their shape, then remove from the oven and allow to cool while you roast the remaining walnuts on a baking tray in the oven for 5 minutes – make sure you keep an eye on them as they can quickly go from golden to black and you don’t want burnt walnuts!
Remove the vanilla pod from the syrup. When the walnuts are done, either whiz them in a food processor or bash them up with a pestle and mortar until you have a paste. Whip up the mascarpone with the walnut paste, the zest and juice of the other orange and enough sugar to sweeten, and serve this cream with the baked pears, the nuts, some orange peel and some of the cooking syrup.