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Desperation dinners: Canned pears can become a fall flavor treat

At first glance, canned pears don't seem so exciting. (After all, they're beige and virtually fat-free!) But then we noticed that canned pears are a very close cousin to poached pears. Only you don't have to peel or poach anything.

Suddenly the humble canned pear explodes with possibilities. Today's recipe for "Butterscotch Pear Trifle with Pecans" is the perfect example. Combined with butterscotch pudding, pound cake, whipped topping and pecans, the canned pears become a fall flavor treat.

The dessert is layered in a glass trifle bowl for drama, and so this easy dessert is beautiful, too. If you don't have a trifle bowl, they're inexpensive and available at mart-type stores and cooking shops. In a pinch, any glass bowl with a 16-cup capacity can be used.

All of the ingredients for today's trifle can be kept on hand in the pantry and freezer, simply adding to the desperate convenience. We'll never underestimate canned pears again.


BUTTERSCOTCH PEAR TRIFLE WITH PECANS

Start to finish: 25 minutes preparation, plus 6 hours unattended chilling time

Cook's notes: Be sure to buy "instant" pudding (the no-cook variety), and do not make it according to the package directions. (You'll be using less milk for this recipe!)

2 packages (3.4 ounces each) "instant" butterscotch pudding mix (see Cook's notes)

3 cups skim or low-fat milk

1 cup pecan pieces or chopped pecans

4 cans (15 ounces each) pear halves packed in juice or light syrup

1 frozen all-butter pound cake (10.5 ounces)

1 carton (12 ounces) reduced-fat nondairy whipped topping, such as Cool Whip

7 1/2 tablespoons caramel ice cream sauce

Place both packages of the pudding mix and 3 cups of milk in a 2-quart mixing bowl. (Note that you're using less milk than the package indicates.) Whisk for 1 minute until all of the powdered mix disappears. Set aside. (The pudding will be thin — it will thicken as it stands.)

Pour the pecan pieces onto a microwave-safe plate and microwave, uncovered on high, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute, stopping halfway through to stir. Set aside to cool.

Open the pears and drain them, reserving the liquid from one of the cans. Pour the pears into a small bowl, and coarsely chop them using two knives. Set aside.

Remove the pound cake from its packaging and place it on a cutting board. Cut into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Place cake slices in a trifle bowl (or glass bowl with a 16-cup capacity) until the bottom of the bowl is covered. (You may have to tear the slices to make them fit.) Spoon just a little of the reserved pear juice over the cake slices to moisten them slightly.

Spoon about 1/3 of the pears over the cake, and spread it as evenly as possible, making sure some of the puree reaches the edges of the bowl so it will show through the glass. Spread about 1/3 of the pudding evenly over the pears, spreading it to the edges of the bowl.

Spread about 1/3 of the whipped topping over the pudding layer, making sure some of it reaches the edges of the bowl. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the caramel sauce over the topping. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nuts over the sauce.

Repeat these layers two more times in this order: cake, pear juice, chopped pears, pudding, whipped topping, 2 tablespoons of caramel sauce and pecans. Before sprinkling the pecans over the whipped topping on the final layer, drizzle the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of the caramel sauce in a decorative pattern over the whipped topping. Then sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly on top.

Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours (or up to 24 hours) to let the flavor develop. To serve, present the trifle whole (at its most beautiful!), then spoon into individual dessert bowls.

Makes 15 servings

Approximate values per serving: 301 calories (35 percent from fat), 12 g fat (5 g saturated), 29 mg cholesterol, 4 g protein, 45 g carbohydrate, 2 g dietary fiber, 332 mg sodium.


Beverly Mills is a former food editor of the Miami Herald food section and a mother of two; Alicia Ross, a former food columnist for The Raleigh News and Observer, also has two children. They have been living the desperate life for years and years. Send desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.desperationdinners.com. You can e-mail Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross at bev-alicia@

desperationdinners.com.


© United Feature Syndicate Inc.