Poached Pears in Magnolia-Scented Oolong

Many of us are familiar with jasmine tea, but magnolia flowers are a prized ingredient in Chinese cuisine as well, appearing in recipes for food as well as in scented tea. 

Magnolia is usually associated with spring, with weddings, with feminine beauty and purity, so now is an odd time of year to feature this flower. But in traditional Chinese medicine, magnolia is also associated with respiratory health, as are pears. And pears are definitely a fall fruit, so we’ve got all the reasons we need to go ahead. (Note that I’m not claiming this combination as a health tonic, but I feel we need every little bit of comfort we can contrive these days.)

The real reason I’ve united these two together is that they are both delicate. Stronger flavours easily overwhelm the beauty of a pear. Now, not all pears are beautiful. Supermarket pears can be dreary and uninspiring unless they are local and even then, they are often picked far too soon. But when you do get one in its prime, it is a shame to bury it under a heavier flavour.

I’ve used Murchie’s Magnolia Oolong  for this recipe, although I’ve also made it with David’s Tea’s version, which also has jasmine flowers in it. Could you make this recipe with jasmine tea? Sure, but why not try something new? These flowers are prized for their beauty and scent and are every bit as lovely in teas as jasmine flowers.

For the pears: different types of pears require different cooking times. The first time I made this recipe was with beautiful little Fiorelle pears, but those weren’t available when I went to the store. Determined not to let the memory of the perfect become the enemy of the altogether lovely, I tried with the pears that I did find. 

For poached whole pears, I used mini-NorthBrites, since I had those from a local farmer. And my word were they incredible! Perfect pear flavour! But such tiny pears are cooked through the minute the poaching liquid comes to a boil, and so receive very little infusion. This is not much of a problem, since the reduction imparts the magnolia flavour very well, and the magnificent taste of these precious pears is fully manifest.  

To poach larger pears in what is some very expensive tea, I couldn’t bury whole pears under a ton of liquid. I solved this easily by slicing them in half, poaching them, and allowing them to cool just a little before peeling them and basting them with the still-reducing liquid. Here’s where the variety REALLY makes a difference.

Both red and yellow Anjous cook very quickly and become slightly grainy. The texture is like that of tinned pears, so not unfamiliar, and still tasty. Certainly, the red ones offer a lovely hue. But a Bosc pear poaches into a lovely firm, smooth texture, and can be cooked just before it’s ripe. It requires a longer cooking time, which allows for greater absorption of the magnolia flavour, and the result is a delight. 

This recipe is not quite vegan, because it calls for honey, but agave syrup would be an acceptably mild substitute. 

When poaching pears, you can peel them first, or poach and then peel. The peels slip off easily if you blanch them and then shock them in ice water, but we don’t wish to dilute our poaching liquid. You can poach them, then peel them while still warm, and thus make a smoother surface. I’m far too impatient for such careful measures, though, so my pears were a little rough on the surface. I don’t care, but if you do, proceed accordingly. Make ahead, store for a few days, or enjoy the same day.

Magnolia Oolong Poached Pears

Pears are poached in a glorious magnolia scented oolong and drenched in a magnolia-pear-honey reduction for a simple, delicate, unexpected dessert.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Canadian
Keyword: #magnoliaoolong, #oolong, #pearseason, #poachedpears

Ingredients

  • ½  cup magnolia oolong loose leaf tea
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 Bosc pears
  • 1 cup pear juice
  • ½  cup honey

Instructions

  • Bring water to a boil. Let cool to 85°C (185°F) and add tea. Let sit for 3 minutes, then remove tea leaves and set aside.
  • Peel pears, then slice pears in half, coring with a melon baller. Place pears in tea, bring tea to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 2 minutes, or until a knife goes in easily.
  • Remove pears with a slotted spoon to a drying rack.
  • Bring tea back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Reduce by half, then add in pear juice and honey, and continue reduce to 1 cup.
  • Remove pears to a dish, middle facing down. Brush occasionally with reducing liquid. When it is reduced to one cup, baste the pears again.
  • Drizzle the remaining rediuction over the pears. Serve right away, or store for another day.

Notes

Use reserved tea leaves to make tea to serve alongside the pears. Fine quality oolong can be re-steeped at least a half a dozen times. 
To make the tea again, heat filtered water to 85°C (185°F) and pour over tea leaves. Always bring the water to the tea, not the other way around. Steep for 3-4 minutes, then strain into teapot. (For a first steeping, try 2 -3 minutes.) Do not leave the tea in the water too long—it will become too bitter. 
Jasmine tea would be lovely in this recipe. A white tea is often too delicate to impart much flavour, so I’d recommend a jasmine oolong or green tea, but experiment as you please. The cost of the tea will likely guide any decisions. 
Try this recipe with a chai blend, or Earl Grey, or blackcurrant tea with blackcurrant juice or syrup instead of honey and juice. 
You could also make pears sous vide with a few tea leaves and some honey – omit the juice, as the pears will create their own juices as they cook. Sealed in a vacuum-packed bag, sous vide pears can be prepared a week in advance.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
White Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares with Genmaicha

White Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares with Genmaicha

Try this: make a nice cup of genmaicha (80°C for 3 minutes). Take a sip. Savour the toasty, nutty, savoury delight of this popular Japanese tea. Now close your eyes and—don’t think about it—take a piece of white chocolate and take a nibble. Take another sip.

By now you’re sure I’m insane. I get it. Do it anyway.

I was in a chocolate and tea pairing class at the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada (THAC) when I was asked to do the same thing by our instructor, the THAC president, Shabnam Weber. I was giving the pairing a nervous side-eye, quite sure that this was very wrong, somehow. But I was here to learn, and Shabnam had yet to steer me in the wrong direction. What could I do? I tried it. It was fantastic.

This unlikely duo, when taken together, was very strongly reminiscent of Rice Krispie Squares. The puffed rice in the tea, the waxy sweetness of the white chocolate, and the familiar briny undertone of the toasty green tea all united to make a funky little flavour-mishmash. Like a Jelly Belly recipe where you combine two lemon and one coconut to replicate the taste of a lemon meringue pie. But weirder.

As soon as I had this glorious strange combination, I knew I had to persuade others to try it. Make it into a dessert, even. But what dessert? Rice Krispie Squares, of course: White Chocolate Crispy Rice Squares with Genmaicha.

If you’re still reluctant to follow me down this path, I understand completely. My taste-testers all had strong, unmistakable reactions. People either loved it or hated it. No middle ground. Fortunately for me, the fans outnumbered the unenlightened by a ratio of 9 to 1. It’s a divisive little dessert, favouring the bold and all lovers of matcha ice cream.

Speaking of matcha: this dessert would be so much easier to make if you used matcha. And if you already love the combination of white chocolate and matcha, why on earth wouldn’t you just use that? It would mean simply stirring in some powder rather than infusing cream with loose leaf tea, then straining it. You could do that.

But this pairing is special, and it works in a uniquely synergistic manner. Try it. It’s weird. It’s wonderful. It’s a one-of-a-kind delight. Worth every bit of your effort and trust in me, in the uniqueness of this tea, and in your own sense of adventure.

These pretty little delicacies would be wonderful cut into tiny cubes and served as part of an afternoon tea platter. You could make it a fusion menu, à là Shangrila (they do matcha cupcakes with black sesame, is that not also a daring leap of culinary imagination?), or serve them as dessert when you order in sushi or noodles. Or just to nibble whenever you have a cup of green tea. Genmaicha, of course.

Tasting is believing. Adventure awaits!

White Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares with Genmaicha

This unusual pairing of ingredients—sweet white chocolate and genmaicha—is the surpise hit on the afternoon tea menu. Tasting is believing.
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #brewcrew, Afternoon tea, Cooking with tea, Genmaicha, Rice Krispie Squares, White chocolate

Equipment

  • 8” X 8” X 4” square pan
  • fine sieve
  • Parchment paper.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup loose leaf genmaicha, or 4 tea bags
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 cups fine quality white chocolate chips like Ghirardelli, Lindt or Callebaut
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 7 cups Rice Krispie cereal

Instructions

  • Butter the pan and line with parchment paper.
  • Heat cream to 80°C or °176 F. Pour in your genmaicha, give it a gentle stir, and let sit for three minutes. The tea leaves will swell up and look as if they have absorbed all the cream. Don’t worry—they haven’t. 
  • Pour cream into a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl. Strain out the cream, pressing the tea leaves with the back of a spoon, or your hands. You should end up with about 1 ½ cups of tea-infused cream.
  • In the larger pot, place ½ cup of tea-infused cream with the butter over low heat. Add in 1 cup white chocolate chips, keeping the heat low and stirring all the while until smooth. Add marshmallows and do the same. Don’t let this mixture burn or curdle—slowly but surely does it.
  • Stir in cereal, folding slowing and gently until it is all evenly coated. 
  • Press the cereal mixture into the pan gently. Don’t press it too hard or you’ll have heavy, dense squares. Pop it in the fridge to firm up if you have room, otherwise the countertop will do just fine.
  • Pour the remaining 1 cup of tea-infused cream back into the smaller pot and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. Add in the remaining 3 cups of white chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes. 
  • Place the pot back on low heat and stir gently until white chocolate chips are melted. Stir together until smooth and let sit until room temperature. 
  • Remove the pan from the fridge. Spread ganache evenly over the squares, smoothing with a spatula until the whole surface is covered. Do NOT rush and pour while too warm or it will melt into your squares. 
  • Decorate the top with some scattered white chocolate chips and genmaicha. Return to the fridge to firm up. Serve at room temperature. 

Notes

Do NOT pour hot ganache on warm squares – it will sink in instead of sitting on top, drenching your squares into a soupy mess. Let everything cool right down.
For brewing the tea: I’ve put in the precise measurements because if your cream is too hot, the tea will be excessively bitter. Don’t worry if the cream seems a tad bitter when it’s done steeping, however. The sweetness of the marshmallows and white chocolate will counteract it.
You can use your hands and/or a cheesecloth to help wring every bit of cream from the tea leaves (if it’s not too hot, of course). You’ll bring the cream to a boil again and kill the germs. Mostly.
Use fresh cereal and marshmallows and good quality tea. The best ingredients make the best desserts.
If you use tea bags instead of loose leaf, you’ll need 4-6, depending on how strong you’d like the tea flavour to be. Keep in mind the white chocolate and marshmallows will dampen the tea’s astringency quite a bit, so don’t be afraid to brew it strong. You will need less cream for the recipe. Keep to ½ cup in the squares, adding any extra to the ganache, which requires less precision for measurements.
If you use unsalted butter, add in a pinch of salt to your cream, butter and chocolate mixture. If not, omit.
Matcha White Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares: Omit genmaicha and add 1 tsp. matcha to the cream for the squares, and 1 ½ tsp. to the cream for the ganache. Adjust the amount of matcha to taste.
Vanilla White Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares: Omit the green tea. Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract to cream for the squares, and 1 tbsp. to the cream for the ganache.
Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Squares: I don’t have a recipe for that, but you know who does? Chelsea’s Messy Apron. Crazy good. With chocolate on top.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Smoky Summer Slaw

I posted my smoky tea pickles on Instagram last week, with the suggestion that you can eat the tea leaves along with the pickled onions. Naturally, the vinegar takes on that smoked flavour as well, making it the perfect base for your vinaigrette.

The smoky dressing adds depth and complexity to a very simple, refreshing salad. Throw together some Napa cabbage, cucumber and brightly coloured carrots, and you’ve got a healthy side that tastes more indulgent than it actually is. This so-called slaw is vegan, but everyone in my family asked me if it had bacon in it!

The pickles are covered with clinging tea leaves, which are perfectly edible – tasty, even!

Don’t underestimate the power of smoke to transform a dish. Where it is easy to achieve that charcoal flavour over a grill or use a smoking gun on solids, that is rather impossible on salad or liquid, so the lapsing-infused vinegar becomes liquid gold. You’ll see.

I have used Napa cabbage here, but Savoy would be nice as well. Fresh bean sprouts would be right at home here, if you have them. I used cucumber and carrots because that’s what I always have in the fridge, but thinly sliced bell peppers would be perfect, too. If you have some mint in your garden, that would not hurt one bit. Chives or green onions would work, too.

Smoky Summer Slaw

  • 1/2 head of Napa cabbage
  • whole English cucumber
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 cup smoky tea-pickled onions
  • 1/2 cup rice wine or smoky tea-pickle vinegar
  • 1/2 light vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce

Thin slice the cabbage, dice the cucumber and grate the carrots or slice them into matchsticks. Throw them all into a large salad bowl. Dice pickled onion with whatever tea leaves are clinging to them and throw them on top.

Mix together smoky vinegar, oil and soy sauce. Stir together and toss with salad. If you want, take a large forkful of tea leaves and stir them into the rest of the slaw.

Coleslaw often is better for resting, but with this simple salad you can throw it together last minute. It’s fine to make ahead as well, for a couple of hours. Pair nicely with grilled meats and chicken.

Top it with green onions if you have them. I had furiyake so I used that.

This one simple ingredient is truly a more powerful taste enhancer than you might think, so take the time (15 minutes) to make yourself some smoky pickles and then enjoy using them to make this kick-ass summer slaw or try them in a quesadilla or chopped salad. You’ll find they add an umami element that you wouldn’t think possible in a salad without cheese or buttermilk or bacon bits. Surprise and delight your (vegan) friends!