Vanilla Bean Shortcakes with Spiced Pears & Cardamom Crème Fraîche
Spiced baked pears. They’re the perfect mix of class and comfort, don’t you think? There’s something both cozy and elegant about a perfectly ripe autumn pear emerging from the oven, warm and smelling of wholesome spices, and dripping with sweet, buttery syrup. I love how when baked, pears become soft and tender yet hold their shape enough to still warrant being eaten with a knife and fork, declaring their rightful place as a simple yet impressive finale to a holiday dinner party among friends. To be completely honest, they don’t even need the shortcakes, but to be fair, they’re undoubtedly superior when served together.
I made these Vanilla Bean Shortcakes with Baked Pears & Cardamom Crème Fraîche on the first cool day we had this year. (I live in Texas, so this was fairly recently.) They filled the house with the intoxicating smell of sweet vanilla beans and hearty fall spices. We couldn’t resist the urge to eat them warm, which after many years of neglecting the humble shortcake, I rediscovered is the proper way to eat them. They’re meant to be eaten fresh from the oven, still wafting curls of steam from the center when you cut them in half. This is when they’re at their fluffiest and most delicious; prime condition for being served as a vehicle for a spicy baked pear and a generous drizzle of cardamom-spiked crème fraîche
I used self-rising flour for the shortcakes, which is simply all-purpose flour mixed with baking powder and salt — see the recipe notes to make your own blend at home. The vanilla beans that speckle the shortcakes lend an intoxicating scent and deep vanilla flavor — the perfect addition to make these extra special for the holidays — but you can substitute vanilla extract for a similar result. In my case, I used a little bit of both as my vanilla beans didn’t have as many seeds as I needed. And I beg you not to skip the cardamom crème fraîche. It adds a lovely tang that balances the rich spices, providing just enough contrast to round out this dessert in the most irresistible way. If you can’t find crème fraîche, try whole milk greek yogurt instead.
Preheat the oven to 400F a place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Place the halved pears face-down in a cast iron skillet or casserole dish. Drizzle with honey, bourbon and water, dot with cubed butter and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Roast pears, pasting every 10 minutes, until they are knife tender and the sauce has become syrupy, about 35 minutes.
Remove from oven and set aside.
For the vanilla bean shortcakes
In a large bowl, combine the self-rising flour and sugar. Whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla bean seeds and cream. Taste and add the vanilla extract if your mixture needs a stronger vanilla flavor.
Make a well in the flour mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the well and stir until a dough comes together, being careful not to over mix. If the dough is too dry, add a little more cream, one tablespoon at a time.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Sprinkle with a little more flour and fold dough over a few times to lightly knead.
Pat the dough out into an 8-inch circle, that is about 1/2-inch thick.
Use a floured biscuit cutter (or small wine glass) to cut rounds. You may need to gently roll the dough into a ball and re-pat into a disc a few times to use all of the dough. Place rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Brush the top of each shortcake with melted butter, sprinkle with course sugar and bake for 12-14 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool until shortcakes are warm to the touch.
For the cardamom crème fraîche
In a small bowl, combine ingredients and still until thoroughly combined.
Cut warm shortcakes in half. Place a baked pear in the center of each and drizzle with cardamom crème fraîche.
If you don't have self-rising flour on hand, for each cup of self-rising flour in this recipe you can substitute 1 cup of all-purpose flour mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. With this substitution you may need to use closer to 1 1/4 cups of cream; start with the 1 cup that is called for and add additional cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough forms.