cacao and cardamom sauce

100g pure cacao (70-90% chocolate would suffice)
8 cardamom pods
2-4 tablespoons of sticky dark brown sugar
butter (unsalted or otherwise)
double cream (if necessary)

makes about a cupful of sauce

crush the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife and remove the seeds, discarding the husks. dry fry the seeds on a cast iron skillet on a high heat for about a minute or until you get the smell of cardamom. put into a mortar and crush to within an inch of its life.

break up the cacao (or grate it in a whirly cheese grater for added silliness) and place in a bowl on a bain-marie (on a saucepan full of hot water on the hob) and melt slowly. add the butter (about a centimetre thick cross-section of a half-pound block), two tablespoons of sugar and the ground cardamom.

stir and warm until everything has melted completely and the sauce has a nice sheen (from the butter).

the cacao and cardamom will make the sauce somewhat gritty (like very strong chocolate) which will work well to accompany very sweet dishes but if you need a more rounded sauce add more butter (unsalted if you are using lots), sugar and/or double cream to taste.

works suspiciously well with pears poached in red wine (I am somewhat skeptical about this but I have been assured it is the case.)

When it cools it will solidify but can be melted and used again (though for how many times I’m not sure, and being paranoid about food safety myself I wouldn’t be handing out any advice on how long to keep it. i would be especially wary of reheating the sauce if you have put cream in it – for no real reason other than urgh).

pears poached in red wine

4-6 (hard, unripe) pears
one bottle red wine (cheap, i used merlot)
1.5-2 mugs dark sticky brown sugar
one cinnamon stick, broken in two
6-10 cloves
4 cardamom pods
1-3 slices of lemon

serves 4-6

put everything apart from the pears into a small/medium saucepan. the pot should be big enough to hold the six pears and the wine but small enough so that the pears are completely covered at all times. turn hob onto a medium heat.

while this mixture is warming slice the bottom off the pears and core it from below (take out just enough so the pips and nasty bits are gone: a cone about 3cm in diameter and 5cm high. ish). peel the pears all the way to the stalk, leaving the stalk on makes it prettier and also easier to deal with when cooking.

when all the sugar has dissolved put the pears into the pot. they will float to the top of the liquid, the best way I found to keep them submerged was the lid of a much smaller pot: it pushes the pears down; leaves plenty of room around the edge for steam to escape; and the handle makes it easy to lift off. all-in-all very clever.

let boil for 25-30 mins, moving the pears around every so often to ensure even cooking/absorption of the lovely flavours. the longer the pears are left the more flavour they get but the mushier they become.

take the pears out, put in a baking dish, cover with aluminium foil and put in a warm (80C) oven to keep.

Here’s the tricky bit. You want to boil the sauce away to leave a syrup. This can go very wrong very fast. Stop boiling too soon and you have a watery liquid, leave it too long and you have a boiled sweet at the bottom of the pot.

The liquid should boil for quite a while and reduce to about two mugs worth of syrup. When you remove it, it should still pour like water but as it cools it will gradually get thicker.

Place one pear upright on each plate with the sauce around, beside or poured over the pear. A chocolate sauce would be quick and easy to make while the syrup is reducing or cooling; vanilla ice cream would also work a treat.

thoughts/criticisms/suggestions welcome