PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF
I speak from experience when I say that a pastry chef’s palette of seasonal ingredients is crowded with caramel and chocolate browns when winter rolls around. But if you look closely, there are plenty of local options for satisfying your sweet tooth. From the sweet, creamy yellow flesh of a Seckel pear, to the papery mahogany skin of the hazelnut, to the deep, dark brown of extra-dark, bittersweet chocolate, what winter’s offerings lack in bright color and flavor are made up for in richness and texture.
In Oregon, pears are the number one fruit crop, and the state ranks third in national production. Washington leads the nation in pear production, providing close to 46% of the total. Together, the Pacific Northwest states grow 84% of the nation’s pears. Several centuries of grafting have produced some 5,000 pear varieties, but we are most familiar with the handful introduced by early European visitors. Among them, I have always favored long and slender-necked Bosc pears, with their russeted skin and crisp texture. When it comes to poaching and baking, their firm and slightly dry flesh holds its shape beautifully and won’t dampen batters or dough when folded into muffins, cakes, and breads.
Pears have many fine characteristics: a rich, almost buttery quality that complements savory ingredients like pork, game, and foie gras; a creaminess suited to sorbet; and a heady perfume that stands up to the intense flavors of ginger, wine, port, bittersweet chocolate, and nuts.
Hazelnuts, or filberts as we like to call them in the Pacific Northwest, are an ancient nut grown here (99% of the U.S. crop is Oregon-grown) and in the temperate regions of Europe. Packed with oils and a deeply satisfying, robust flavor, filberts are one of the most versatile nuts in the pastry chef’s pantry. Their smooth flavor blends seamlessly with most fruits, and for dessert-making, there is no better sidekick for chocolate than the filbert.
Because any dessert made with chocolate is inevitably the most popular item on the menu, this pastry chef knows that pairing it with local pears and hazelnuts will please everyone at the table.
Pastry chef Ellen Jackson is a Portland-based cookbook author, food writer and stylist, and recipe developer. In addition to having a deep knowledge of regional food products, growers, and suppliers dedicated to the celebration of food, Ellen is passionate about the importance of cooking and protecting local and global biodiversity. Learn more at www.foodprintstyle.com.