Pear and Ginger Barfi Bars
As a kid growing up in Mumbai, my favorite fruit next to Alfonso mangoes was pears. As soon as they were in season, my mother would bring the pale green beauties home from the market, and I would immediately devour the first pear, right out of the box, juice dripping from the corner of my mouth. It was bliss.
Juicy, crunchy, ever so slightly soft and super sweet, pears are an underrated fruit. They bring natural sweetness to any dessert.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KIND OF PEARS?
I did not grow up with varieties of this fruit. But after coming to the United States, and after frequent visits to the grocery store, I realized there are Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice and many more delicious varieties. Anjous are very crunchy, whereas Bartletts are great for making jams and desserts because they are sweet, soft and juicy, which is what I use in this recipe.
Pear and Ginger Barfi Bars are inspired by my love for this fruit as well as my favorite Indian festival, Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, which starts on November 8th this year. In India, Diwali is an emotion, a feeling, a celebration in which folks from all backgrounds come together, as a community. There is love, laughter, lights, color everywhere, and you can’t help but be a part of this lovely celebration.
INGREDIENTS IN THE BAR
The ingredients in the shortbread layer are:
- All purpose flour
- Butter: I use unsalted butter and add salt so I can control the amount of salt in the shortbread.
- Granulated sugar: The sugar melts once the bars are in the oven creating a nice texture in the shortbread.
- Ground Ginger and Candied Ginger: I am a HUGE fan of ginger. Pear and ginger is a lovely combination and the bars taste amazing with the ginger.
- Vanilla extract: Always vanilla extract in any bake!
The ingredients in the Barfi Layer are:
- Ghee: Any good barfi starts off with ghee, which is essentially clarified butter, available easily at Indian grocery stores, and even at Whole Foods Market.
- Granulated sugar
- Pear puree: The pear adds a subtle taste, but most importantly it reduces the amount of sugar required in the barfi. Be sure to use ripe pears (not overripe as well!).
- Whole milk and milk powder: Traditionally only whole milk is used to make barfi, and it requires hours of churning to reduce down the milk. But nowadays shortcuts are taken to reduce the amount of time it takes to make barfi by using a combination of whole milk and milk powder.
- Cardamom and saffron: add a floral taste and color to the pear barfi.
These Pear Barfi Bars are my take on a fusion bar: a cross between a classic shortbread and barfi, an Indian sweet typically made with whole milk, milk powder, sugar, and cardamom. Pear and ginger is a classic combination. I have elevated the shortbread crust with ground ginger and bits of candied ginger.
The barfi layer is elevated with fresh pear puree, and although you cannot taste the pear in the barfi, it makes the layer moist, and adds natural sweetness, requiring less sugar than usual. The barfi melts in your mouth, leaving you craving more.
MAKE AND DECORATE THE BARFI
The barfi layer itself does not take more than 18 to 20 minutes to make from start to finish. It is an arm workout like the art of a well-made risotto, but all good things in life take effort and love, don’t they? Make sure to use freshly ground coarse cardamom. It adds a beautiful taste to the barfi.
The top layer is decorated with sliced pistachios, saffron and edible gold leaf. And although the gold leaf is optional, it gives the Pear Barfi Bars, the classic Indian mithai touch with a very pretty, festive look. Edible gold leaf is easily available online, and I always have some at home to elevate my desserts.
My favorite way to celebrate this festival, spread joy and cheer is to make small boxes of mithai or sweets, and give them as gifts to my loved ones, signifying the gift of health, wealth and prosperity. Happy Diwali from my family to yours.
PS: This recipe first appeared last year (2022) in S.F.Chronicle for my bi-weekly column Modern Vegetarian.