180 gmcaster sugar180 gmbutter, cut into 8 pieces2vanilla beans, halved lengthways4ripe firm pears such as Packham, Williams or small beurre Bosc, halved, cored and each studded with a clove2sheets butter puff pastry (375gm each)To serve:pouring cream and pure icing sugarEight-spice powder2½ tspjuniper berries5star anise2 tspcloves1 tspwhite peppercorns½ tspcardamom seeds1large cinnamon quill1small pinch saffron2 tspMurray River salt flakes
For eight-spice powder, dry-roast ingredients (except salt) until fragrant (2-3 minutes). Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind with salt until finely ground, set aside.
Divide sugar between two 18cm-diameter cast-iron frying pans, divide butter cubes between pans, sprinkle each pan with 1 tsp eight-spice powder (reserve remainder for another use), then place halved vanilla bean in the centre in a cross. Place pear halves in pans cut-side up, cover with puff pastry, trim into a circle and firmly tuck in edges, then refrigerate to rest (15 minutes).
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 190C. Score pastry in the centre and between each pear half, then cook over low-medium heat until sugar begins to caramelise (12-18 minutes). Carefully baste pastry with caramel, then transfer to oven and bake until pastry is golden and puffed, basting pastry halfway through cooking (15-20 minutes). Remove from oven, loosen edges with a knife, then carefully turn out onto a chopping board, cut into pieces, dust with icing sugar and serve hot with cream.
This recipe is from the April 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.