Oh dear, I feel like such a bad influence posting two desserts in a row. I’m usually not like this, I swear. But, this one is simply too lovely not to share. And, I’m going to go ahead and justify it by arguing that, if you replaced the whipped cream with yogurt then it would be almost healthy (though not nearly as fun!). Considering that the cooking boils off the alcohol from the white wine in the pear compote, you could even eat it for breakfast. So there we go, justification accomplished.
Veiled farm girls, or tilslørte bondepiker, is a very traditional and equally delicious Norwegian dessert. Personally, I think it is a classic example of how a few simple ingredients, ingeniously combined, can result in something dazzling – it’s the gestalt theory of cooking! In the classic version of veiled farm girls you just layer applesauce with cinnamon breadcrumbs and whipped cream, and voila, dessert is ready! It’s almost too simple and too delicious to be true. Sadly, I was deprived of this wonder for many years as this is actually not one of the desserts I grew up with (though we sometimes had a dessert of similar spirit and simplicity we called krem bananer og rik rak, which was banana slices with whipped cream and chocolate shavings…yum.). I didn’t get to try tilslørte bondepiker until I was in college, but when I was introduced to it, it was in a most spectacularly legitimate fashion.
I was home for winter break, when our family friend Beatrice Ojekangas (who happens to be a spectacular cookbook author and chef – she even taught Martha Stewart how to make lefse on her show!) phoned my mother and me to see if we would like to come help Andreas Viestad demonstrate a recipe from his new cookbook at a book signing in town. We were happy to oblige, though we had no idea who Andreas Viestad was. We quickly found out that he was (and is) Norway’s top food writer and host of a popular television show on the food of the country. (Since then he has won awards for his cookbooks and continued to do rather well for himself, I’d say.) We also discovered he was rather cute, exuding jaunty, boyish charm, and all of us helping him hopped to his every request, giggling like a bunch of school girls. (Really, I feel I had grounds for this, given that I actually was a schoolgirl.) He had come to do a book signing in Duluth specifically because he admired Bea Ojekangas and had really wanted to meet her. So while we were in awe of him, he was in awe of her, and the whole process of working together was rather amusing. Luckily he had chosen veiled farm girls as the recipe to make, and its simplicity allowed us to make it with ease, in spite of the giddiness flying all around. As soon as I tried a bite of the dessert I was completely smitten with its layers of fruity, crunchy, and creamy.
Since then I’ve made the dessert a number of times, varying it a bit here and a bit there. But, this was the first time I had made it with a fruit other than apples, and I’m kicking myself for never having tried it before. We had pears around (left over from the yogurt cake) as well as the end of a bottle of white wine, so I decided to make a lightly spiced pear compote. Upon discovering that we also had just a bit of cream hanging around as well, I knew instantly what I wanted to do. Though cinnamon is nice with pear, I think that cardamom and pear is simply one of the most divine flavor combinations ever dreamed up. So, I laced the breadcrumbs with ground cardamom before toasting them, and layered these with the pear compote and whipped cream to create an enticing and graceful parfait. I may never go back to the apple version! The scent of the cardamom beckons you into this one, and each bite is layered with flavors that are subtle and elegant, textures that are surprising yet satisfying. And, like the original version, this version is a bit like Norwegian girls, “blonde, sweet, and just a little tart.”
Veiled Farm Girls with Pear and Cardamom (serves 4)
- 2 pounds pears, ripe but still firm
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 1/2 tablespoon honey
- 4 pods green cardamom, lightly crushed (or 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom)
- 1 strip of lemon zest
- 1 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1- 1 1/2 cup whipping cream (Depending on how much whipped cream you like in your parfaits! )
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Peel and core the pears and cut them into small chunks (if you want to leave the peels on, that’s also fine). Then, combine the white wine, honey, lemon zest, cardamom pods in a saucepan. Add the pear and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pears are quite soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (If after the 10 minutes most of the liquid hasn’t already evaporated, remove the pears with a slotted spoon and boil down the remaining liquid until a syrup forms, then add this back to the pears and cool.)
- In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium, add the bread crumbs, 1 Tbs. sugar, and the ground cardamom. Cook, stirring constantly until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden. Remove from the heat and allow these to cool completely as well.
- Whip the cream with the remaining Tbs. sugar and the vanilla until stiff peaks form. In a large glass bowl or in four individual serving dishes, layer the pear compote, the breadcrumbs, and the whipped cream in at least two repetitions of the layers being sure to end with whipped cream on the top – this is the veil. Chill 30 minutes before serving.