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Put 300g of the sugar and the vanilla pod in a narrow, deep saucepan with 1 litre of water. Use a vegetable peeler to pare the zest from the lemon, then drop that in the pan too. Heat gently until the sugar has melted, then bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, juice the lemon and peel the skin from the pears, rubbing with lemon juice as you go, to stop the flesh browning. Carry on peeling until the pears are reduced to a size that only takes up about half of one of the holes of a muffin tin. Put the pears in the pan with the poaching liquid, cover and turn down the heat. Gently poach for about 30 mins until they are really soft - test with a skewer at the widest part. Keep the fruit submerged in the poaching liquid in the fridge until ready to finish the pudding.
Meanwhile, make a salted caramel sauce by melting the remaining 200g sugar and the butter together in a saucepan. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the cream, bring to the boil and bubble for 2 mins while stirring. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Make the batter by whizzing the milk, egg and flour in a food processor or blender until smooth (or whisk by hand). Transfer the batter to a jug. Both can be made up to 24 hrs ahead, just chill until you're ready.
To finish, heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Divide about ½ tsp sunflower oil between 6 holes of a deep, metal muffin tin. Put in the oven to heat for 10 mins. Trim the base of each pear so they'll sit flat, then dip in some of the caramel sauce and transfer to a plate for a minute for the excess to run off (you can tip this back in with the rest of the sauce).
Working quickly, sit a pear in each hole of the tin, and pour the batter in and around. Put back in the oven and bake for 16-20 mins until the puffs are risen and golden. Warm the caramel sauce while the puffs are baking, then serve together immediately, with extra cream or crème fraîche.
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