Let them eat cake? Yes, please.September 18, 2006
I love dessert, yes. But I think I might love rich, bread-y and only slightly sweet breakfast treats even more. Danishes and coffee cakes and fruit breads, oh my!
So this Asian pear cake is perfect for me. It was nominally served as dessert, but in my view, it was a perfectly delicate and sweetly restrained coffee cake. It had this beautiful spice bread that played masterfully with roughly sliced and luxurious Asian pears. To someone who didn’t know they were Asian pears, the fruit might seem like fragile and yet slightly crispy sweet apples.
Serve it for dessert, then eat it for breakfast. I think it would go perfectly with vanilla ice cream or with coffee, and its spicy goodness makes me yearn a bit for the holidays and fireplaces. Go on for more about his Asian pear cake.
This cake was inspired by two events. Last Wednesday, the Washington Post‘s food section featured a recipe for Jewish New Year’s cake that was built around layered apples. Seeing how beautiful and easy it was, I decided to make it, and if I could, improve it. The second event was, of course, the perfect occasion for this endeavor: Dinner with friends. Who better to try out culinary experiments on then innocent and willing victims?
As I saw it, the problem with the Post’s recipe was that it relied on a spice bread filled with apples — but a spice bread that really didn’t seem to get the job done. The recipe called only for cinnamon — and, in my view, any good spice bread will have loads of spices that assault the senses. And apples are perfect for carrying those smells and flavors.
After hatching my plan for a spicier spice bread, I set off to the store with hopes of finding the perfect apples. Instead, I stumbled on a detour that I can happily say was an improvement: Asian pears. I’m not always a fan of these delicate beauties, but I was offered samples and they were very good. Asian pears have a shape similar to an apple, but they’re juicier than any apple I’ve eaten and they feature a pear’s sweetness and softness.
One last variation I made involved orange juice. The Post recipe calls for 1/3 of a cup of OJ. Now, I generally only like the stuff if I’ve got a pile of pancakes in front of me, or if it has a splash of vodka in it, or if it has been squeezed out of the orange before my eyes. So, rather then rely on old reliable — the carton of OJ — I replaced it with the juice of two oranges and a bit of their zest.
For the citrusly uninitiated, the zest is the colored outer skin of a grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime, etc. The skin has a good deal of oil and flavor. Between the zest and the flesh, there is a whitish substance called pith, which has no real culinary value (unless you make helmets from it). Pith is rumored to be bitter, but there is an ongoing debate.
If you remove the zest using a microplane grater or similar device, you can really get a good deal of the fruit’s fragrance into a dish. So in addition to fresh orange juice, I added the outside zest from one orange.
So, in the end, I mangled the Post’s recipe. I tossed out the apples, changed the cake, threw out their OJ and ditched a sauce they suggested in favor of simple and perfect powdered sugar. The result was something I was very pleased with (as were our dinner guests) and that I hope you enjoy as well.
For those who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah this coming week, many happy returns celebrating the creation of the world. To the rest of us, good eating for this coming fall!
Asian Pear New Year Cake
3 Asian pears
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. all spice powder
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1. Preheat your oven to 350F.
2. Slice the pears. What you’re looking for are simple slices, just as you would slice an apple. However, pears have a smaller core than apples so you’re likely to get more yield from the fruit. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the eggs until they’ve lost their orange color and have become a bit paler, about 1 min.
4. Add to the mix the juice of two oranges and the zest from one and whisk lightly.
5. Now add the flour, spice mix, baking powder, sugar, vanilla and salt and mix completely.
6. Once those ingredients are incorporated, slowly add the oil as you mix the batter. The result will be rather thick, sticky, and perfect for what is next.
7. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. How? Grease the pan, then add about a tablespoon of flour to the pan’s base, then move and shake the pan until the flour has made a nice thin coat that covers the pan’s entire interior. Do this over the sink to save your self the mess. Dump out any excess flour.
8. Now begin to layer your cake. Take about a third of the batter mixture and lay down a nice coating on the bottom of the pan. This will actually be your top, so you want to make sure you’ve made a thick layer all the way around the base of the pan.
9. Lay pear slices on top of your batter layer. Add another layer of batter and another layer of pear slices. You should get between 2-3 layers of pears. The final layer should be batter.
10. Place your pan in the oven and bake for approximately 90 min. To check for doneness, insert a toothpick in the middle and remove it. It should come out clean when the cake is done.
11. Remove finished cake from the oven and leave it in its pan for at least 30 min. on a rack or other tray. Once sufficiently cool, you can turn it out onto a plate or simply leave it in its pan and cut slices from it. In either case, be sure to work slowly. The cake has a dense construction and those apples don’t help, so it will be more delicate then a Bundt cake or the like.
12. Sprinkle slices with confectioners sugar and enjoy!