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07 September 2010

Pear/Ginger Upside-down Cake

Every year at pear season I experiment with a pear and ginger cake recipe that I saw in a random cookbook from a craft store, and I couldn't get it to work like it looked in the picture. Somehow these people made a thick-ish batter and set pear slices on top and after baking the pears were still on the top of the cake. When I tried it the pear slices sank to the bottom and it wasn't very impressive. So then I tried a few mutations on the theme, trying to perfect a recipe (pear-fect, ha ha) to get the most flavor into the cake and make it beautiful. I've tried making a pound cake in a bundt pan so that the pears in the bottom of the pan will end up on the top when you take it out of the pan and it should be pretty, but it wasn't as satisfying as I thought it would be. And then I was talking to my dad a few days ago, telling him my plans for the hundred or so pears that I had getting ready for jamming, and I told him my dilema, the elusive cake recipe. He suggested doing it like a pineapple upside-down cake, because it's easy to find a trusty recipe. I tried it last week, and somehow this gave me the most flavor bang for my buck, and I think it looks pretty good. So, thanks Dad! This one is for you.

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake
(Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 11th edition.)

3 firm pears
1 tablespoon finely diced fresh ginger
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Peel, cut in half, and core the pears, coat with lemon juice as needed to keep them from browning while you work. In a skillet over medium high heat, lightly cook the pear halves with about 1 teaspoon of the chopped ginger until they are a gentle golden brown on the outside. This step is important for fresh pears to soften and cook them a little, as well as infuse them with the ginger flavor, but if you can't find good fresh pears (a struggle, I know) and opt for canned pears instead, you can skip it.
Grease a 9-inch cake pan, mix together the brown sugar and tablespoon of butter, sprinkle over the bottom of the pan. Arrange the pears, cut side down, on top of the sugar, and sprinkle the remaining ginger over all.
Mix together the flour, granulated sugar and baking powder in a medium size bowl. Add milk, the 1/4 cup butter, egg, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low for about a minute. Spoon the batter over the fruit in the pan.
Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 35-40 minutes until  a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for about 5 minutes on a wire rack, then invert onto a plate and serve warm. Eat any leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.

04 September 2010

Jamming Time

Pears were on sale last week for really cheap, so we bought at least 30 pounds of pears and I made a lot of jam yesterday and today, and now I have a strange callous on my hand from paring so many pears. I did a bunch of pectin-free batches, and I did about 4 batches with the kind of  pectin that uses less sugar. It all turned out well. The first couple of batches made with pectin set up really hard, I think because the pears were less ripe at first. I let them sit with a banana in a warm place for a day before doing the next ones with pectin. The pectin-free pear jam, unlike the pectin-free boysenberry jams I did a couple months ago, turned out a little more like syrup than jam, although some of the pectin-free jams set up more, depending again on the ripeness of the fruit. I was really excited to do some fun flavor combinations because pears are nice and mild and like being eaten with all sorts of spices. I have been planning on doing pear and ginger for a while, it's a combination that I experiment with every year during pear season (see my pear and ginger upside-down cake, recipe coming soon!). It is delicious, but the other combination I tried was even better: pear with cardamom. It is like heaven on a piece of toast, on a hotcake, mixed in with your oatmeal for breakfast, and probably warm over vanilla ice cream. I can't give you the recipe because I think I might start selling it. Yes, it is that good.

In the picture from left to right: Pear with cardamom and other spices, Pear with ginger and cardamom, Pear with ginger.