pear upside-down cake; fall has arrived

with the kids out of the house, darry and i frequently do our grocery shopping at trader joe’s.  now that it is just the two of us, we can shop for the foods we prefer without having to worry about the kids not liking the dishes we cook.  a recent trip to the store had me stocking up on fall favorites.  a bag of pears made the trip home with me.  ripe, juicy pears are a favorite of mine.  unfortunately, i forgot about them and when i went to grab one, i saw that i had 4 very ripe pears.  knowing that i would not be able to eat them all, i decided to bake a cake and share it with my fellow garden volunteers.

upside down cakes are a favorite of mine.  this recipe actually appears in my second cookbook, desserts from the famous loveless cafe.  however, i used peaches in the book.  guess what, pears will work just as nicely, so will apples!  honestly, i am thinking that plums as well as pecan or walnut halves would also work nicely.  the most unusual fact about this cake, it is a whipped cream cake.  that means rather than use soft butter, you actually whip heavy cream with sugar to soft peaks.  eggs and vanilla are added to this and finally, self rising flour is sifted over the cake and folded in.  so simple, so tasty.  for those of you not in the south, you can make this with cake flour if you cannot find traditional self rising flour.  just use an equal portion of cake flour and add 1 tablespoon of baking powder and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

to make the cake, follow this link to the cafe’s website.  the full recipe is posted and available to you.  believe it or not, i followed the recipe making only one small change.  for the caramel that is cooked in the skillet, i used light brown sugar rather than the granulated sugar called for. my decision was based on the thought that brown sugar would add a little more flavor and it did.

pear cranberry crumb cake with almonds

the calendar says spring but the weather says fall.  we seem to be having cooler mornings as if it were heading into fall.  why just last night, they issued a frost warning for our area.  if only our last frost date hadn’t been a month ago, i might not have minded it so much.  we have been working hard in the garden and beds have been filled with plants that cannot withstand such temperatures.  that said, it should not surprise anyone that i am baked a cake laced with pears and cranberries rather than the typical sour cherries or strawberries found this time of year.  

how can you not love a crumb topped cake?  especially if it is hiding a layer of spiced fruits!  if you take it a step further and add chunks of almonds to the crumb topping and a little almond paste to the cake-you have a heavenly excuse to put down the garden tools and take a cake break!

when cranberries come into season, i always tuck a few bags into the freezer.  it is a nice surprise when i am digging around in search of inspiration for a cake.  keeping a can of almond paste in the closet is a good idea too.  when i purchase a new can, i open both ends, take out the neat cylinder of paste and cut it into 4 equal pieces.  since the can contains 8 ounces of paste, i end up with 4 two ounce pieces.  by wrapping each in plastic and storing them in a container in the freezer, i always have some available.  and that means i always have another tasty inspiration for cake.

pear cranberry crumb cake with almonds
1 (8″) square cake serving 12-16

crumb topping
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes
1/4 cup chopped almonds

fruit filling
1 large, ripe pear-i used a d’anjou
1/2 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

almond cake
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces almond paste-at room temp
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 1/4 cup baking powder
1 cup milk

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8″ square baking pan and set it aside.  make the crumb topping by combining the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon.  using your fingers, rub the butter cubes into the dry ingredients until it begins to form crumbs.  take care not to go to far with this step or the crumb layer will be gummy; they should still be somewhat free flowing and a mixture of loose dry ingredients and small to medium clumps with the oats still obvious.  add the almonds and toss it together gently.  set this aside.

peel the pear and cut it into cubes.  combine it with the remaining ingredients and set it aside while you prepare the cake layer.

to make the cake, cream the butter with the almond paste, sugar and salt until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  add the eggs slowly and scrape the bowl as you go.  place the flour and baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter.  fold it a couple times and then sprinkle the milk over the top.  fold this together until no streaks remain and then scrape it out of the bowl and into the prepared pan.  spread the batter out in an even layer.  top the cake evenly with the fruit and the sprinkle the crumbs over the fruit so that it is covered but peeks out in spots.  bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes.  cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes.  to remove the cake from the pan, place a baking sheet over the top of the cake and invert it.  the pan should slide right off.  place your serving plate over the bottom of the cake and invert it again.  now go out to the garden and eat cake!

if you need me, i will be out in the garden with cake…

pear upside down cake; tuesdays with dorie/baking with julia

for this weeks baking with julia challenge, we turn to our hosts, marlise of the double trouble kitchen and susan of the little french bakery .  summer may be quickly coming to a close but the nectarines called for in this recipe are still easy to find in grocery stores and farmers markets making this a great dessert for any picnic or barbecue.  unless of course you have just spent the last month making all things peach in honor of national peach month.  and before you go on about the differences between peaches and nectarines, be honest, once incorporated into a cake like this, who will actually be able to tell the difference?  not my husband and as far as he is concerned, a cooked peach is not one that he will eat.  that said, i grabbed a large, ripe bartlett pear and got to work.  knowing that we wouldn’t eat a tall 10″ cake by ourselves, i cut the recipe in half and used an 8″ cake pan.  even though it was only 2″ tall, the batter filled the pan completely and did not run out onto the tray while baking.

 one difference between most upside down cakes and this one is the choice of cake.  most recipes call for a rich but simple butter cake while this recipe utilizes a lighter chiffon cake.  the other difference, a crunchy streusel that is baked until golden before being layered into the cake.  the recipe called for almonds and the need to toast them before adding them to the streusel.  feeling a bit lazy, i grabbed my bag of dry roasted pistachios and omitted that step.

 butter melted in the bottom of a cake pan, dark brown sugar patted down in an even layer and pear slices arranged over the soon to be caramel layer.  the bottom of the pan now but it will be the top of the cake after baking so it is important to make it look pretty.  try to keep the center of the pear on the inside so that the top of the cake looks nicer.

 prebaking the streusel made it seem like a layer of granola so i am now wondering if you might not just skip that step and sprinkle a good granola into the cake-surely that could work.

listen to the warning to serve the cake immediately, it really does not hold up well for more than a day.  the moisture in the fruit makes the cake gummy and gives it an unpleasant texture.

thanks to marlise and susan.  buy the book and bake with julia!

a taste of fall: pear frangipane tart, pie #41 of 52

while i am sad to see summer come to a close, i am looking forward to the arrival of fall produce.  as much as i love visiting the farmers market in summer, i find the trips downtown in the fall almost magical.  the sight of so many apples and hard squashes…the thoughts of applesauce and butters and pies…mmmmmm, that’s all i can say about it.  while it is still very warm, with many days still 80+, it is no longer too hot to make baking impossible.  the arrival of pears from colder climates made a pear tart irresistible.
not all pears make nice tarts.  the best ones are those with a slightly soft texture that hold their shape when baked.  for this reason, i generally use d’anjou pears that are a tad under ripe.  for this tart, i had to choose between bartlett and bosc-neither being a favorite of mine.  i went with firm, under ripe bartletts so that they would not turn to mush when i poached them.  poaching is important for this type of tart-it prevents discoloration and ensures that the pears are soft when the tart filling is completely baked.  it also prevents the pears from releasing excessive amounts of juices onto the top of the filling and that enables the filling to bake properly.  the poaching liquid includes wine and the beauty of this tart is that you could use any type of wine and alter the taste of the pears to your liking.  i used marsala because that is what was convenient but you could easily use chardonnay, sauternes, port, champagne or any other white  wine.  however, there is no reason that you couldn’t use a mild, fruity red and give the pears a pink tint. 
freshly poached and ready to be sliced. after removing the pears, place the pot of liquid back on the stove over low heat.  the poaching liquid is reduced down to 1 cup and used as a syrup to drizzle over the slices as you serve them.

the tart shell must be prebaked first.  then, mix up the frangipane filling, spread it into the tart shell and layer the sliced pears around the top in a spiral.

once the tart has been baked and allowed to cool completely, remove it from the pan and cut it into wedges.  drizzle it with the syrup and you have an elegant fall dessert.

pear frangipane tart
serves 8-10
tart dough
half batch of tart dough from pie #39, second piece can be frozen for future use.  place the dough into a greased tart pan with a removable bottom.  with your fingers, carefully distribute the dough around the bottom and sides by pressing it and pushing it into place so that it is an even thickness throughout (no rolling pin required!!!).   place the shell on a sturdy baking pan.  line the shell with a coffee filter or parchment paper, fill with weights and prebake it at 325 degrees until the dough no longer looks shiny and appears opaque when you lift up the paper/weights, about 25-30 minutes.
poached pears
3-4 pears, peeled, halved with cores removed
3 cups water
1 cup wine
1/2 vanilla bean
1 star anise pod
3 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon, squeezed-juice and fruit both added to the mix
1/2 cup sugar
combine the ingredients in a large pot.  over medium low heat, simmer the pears until they are soft but not yet mushy, about 20 minutes.  remove the pears to a dish to cool.  remove all of the aromatic ingredients from the liquid and return the pot to the stove over medium low heat.  allow the syrup to reduce and concentrate to just 1 cup.  chill the syrup
frangipane filling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces almond paste
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup all purpose flour
in a mixing bowl, cream the butter, almond paste and the sugar until light and fluffy.  add the egg and mix to incorporate.  sift the flour into the batter and mix just to incorporate.  
assembling and baking the tart
remove the weights from the tart shell and spread the frangipane filling evenly in the shell.  cut the pears into 1/4″ thick slices and using the photo above for reference, carefully arrange them in a spiral around the top of the filling.  bake in an oven preheated to 350 until the filling sets, approximately 50-55 minutes.  brush a small amount of the syrup over the tart while it is still hot to give it a shine and allow it to cool completely before removing it from the pan.  cut into wedges and serve it with a drizzle of the syrup.  if you would like to really indulge yourself and those you are serving this too,  serve it with some vanilla or buttermilk ice cream.
as always, bake one and send me a photo, i promise to post it here.

almost caught up! #25 of 52, apple-pear pie

getting caught up…what a concept!  not so sure it will happen but i am giving it my best efforts!  for this pie, i decided to go a little outside the lines.  when you think of apple pie, tart green apples, cinnamon and other spices always come to mind.  they work well with pears too.  but this time, i decided to leave out the cinnamon and nutmeg and focus on some other flavors that work well with apples and pears.  first, i passed up the green granny smiths and used golden delicious apples.  how does vanilla bean, lemon zest and freshly grated ginger sound?  and one last twist-tapioca for the thickener rather than starch or flour.  this extra large and super deep pie was well received despite the lack of cinnamon.  use your favorite pie crust recipe or purchase the prerolled sheets to make it easier.  pyrex makes really deep and large pie plates, look for them in the supermarket with the kitchen gadgets or any other store that stocks pyrex dishes and kitchen ware.
deep dish apple and pear pie
easily serves 8-10
pie dough for a double crust pie-purchsed or using the recipe from pie #18
enough golden delicious apples to make 5 cups of slices
enough ripe anjou pears to make 5 cups of slices
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger-packed tightly
zest of 1-2 lemons
the seeds from one vanilla bean (reserve the pod for another use)
4 teaspoons (and up to 2 tablespoons) quick cooking tapioca
egg wash-1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
preheat oven to 350.  rub the sugar together with the ginger, lemon zest and vanilla seeds.  mix in the tapioca and toss the mixture with the apples and pears.  lightly grease the pie dish, line it with one sheet of the pie dough and fill it with the fruit mixture.  brush a little egg wash around the edges, top with the second sheet of dough and seal the edges.  trim the excess, roll the excess under and flute the edges.  cut a few vents and if desired, brush the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.  place the pie on a greased sheet pan and bake until it bubbles in the center, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
on to the next one…and as always, bake one and send me a photo-i will post it here.