Caramelized Pears with Chai–Maple Syrup Dumplings
When I met my husband, Ross, he was a college student living on his own and he knew how to cook about three things. His diet was driven by survival, necessity, and a ravenous late-teen appetite that required a constantly full plate on a small budget. His staple dinner was spaghetti bolognese made with mince (ground meat) purchased at the bulk price and transformed into a huge pot of meat sauce that would last him through the week. His desserts were comprised mainly of salt-of-the-earth sweet recipes inherited from his mother’s small country kitchen. The day he presented an oddly monikered dish to me called Heavenly Hash was, in all honesty, not a high point in our courtship. Hidden within a mound of sour cream, there were tinned mandarins, maraschino cherries, and marshmallows. It was unlike any dessert I’d ever tasted, and I didn’t care to taste it ever again. However, his reputation in the kitchen was completely redeemed by the next dessert he cooked for me: golden syrup dumplings. Instantly, I was in love.Golden syrup dumplings are an Australian (and by historical default, British) dessert classic. Fluffy, cloud-like dumplings are bathed in a rich golden syrup sauce, made with basic, budget-friendly pantry staples. The key ingredient is, of course, golden syrup. Not commonly found in countries outside of Australia or the United Kingdom, this treacle-like amber syrup is the cornerstone of several feted Antipodean desserts including caramel slice and Anzac biscuits. It’s thicker and sweeter than maple syrup, but in everyday cooking, I find maple to be a delicious sub.This recipe is a riff on my mother-in-law’s golden syrup dumplings, elevated with spices and fruit. While still using very basic pantry ingredients, I’ve added caramelized pears to the equation, along with warming chai spices to add depth and intrigue. While some like to shape their dough into balls (be warned, it’s normal for the dough to be very wet, so it’s quite hard to handle), I love the freeform dumplings achieved by simply dropping spoonfuls of the dough directly into the hot syrup. The dumplings puff up, while the bottoms becomes lusciously sodden with the sugary syrup (personally, my favorite part of the dumpling). Although this dish is already sweet, I always serve it with vanilla ice cream (use whipped cream, if you prefer). This recipe is also very adaptable; you can make it plain, without pears or chai (simply omit the pears and use water in place of the chai), and it will still capture your heart—just like my husband’s dumplings did, all those years ago.