Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pear Upside-Down Cake

The peaches, plums, and nectarines of summer are almost gone,  but the pears, apples and figs of fall are already showing up in stores and farm stands in our area. My neighbor Mrs. M found this Martha Stewart recipe for Pear upside-down cake, and knowing how much we like pear desserts, she passed this along to me.

 The cake is soft and moist with a fine texture, that is not to dense or to airy, but just perfect for soaking up all the caramelized sugars and juices from the pears when the cake is flipped over. This cake is simple to make and has very few ingredients, so the pear flavor really shines. To top it all off, we added a drizzle of butterscotch sauce, which complemented the warm sweet flavors of the fruit and brown sugar, but this cake is equally delicious all on its own. As the days start to get shorter and cooler, we will be making plenty more pear desserts, and I know this one will be making several more appearances. 

Pear Upside -Down Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 3 ripe pears, such as Bartlett or Anjou, peeled and cored      
Cake Batter:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1.  Make the topping: Melt butter in the bottom of a 10 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat. Add brown sugar, stirring until dissolved. Swirl to coat the bottom; remove from heat, and cool. Cut pears into 1/4-inch-thick wedges, and arrange them in a circular pattern over the brown-sugar mixture to cover completely; set aside.
2. Make the batter: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract; beat to combine. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating to combine
4. Alternating with the milk, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix, on low speed, just until the flour is incorporated.
5. In a large bowl, beat reserved egg whites and the cream of tartar with a hand mixer until stiff but not dry. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg whites into the batter. Transfer to skillet. Using an offset spatula, spread the batter evenly, being careful not to disturb the pears.
6. Bake until well browned on top and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan, and immediately invert the cake onto a serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.
printable recipe

Foodie Friday

Thursday, August 15, 2013


 Often the question is, Chocolate or Vanilla? But in this month's Improv Challenge, we were challenged to combine those two classic flavors into one dessert. The choices were endless, but homemade Oreos have been on my to do list for a long time and once again the Improv Challenge gave me the boost I needed to cross something off my "must make" list. I reviewed lots of recipes and decided that I would try Thomas Keller's version of Oreos. Interestingly enough, there are several different recipes that claim to be Thomas Keller Oreos so I went to the source, Bouchon Bakery cookbook by Thomas Keller.

 These cookies were good, but they were not Oreos. The cookies were buttery, and chocolatey with a delicate sandy texture, and the white chocolate filing was perfect for them, but nothing like the classic Oreo filling that is arguably the best part of the cookie. To get something closer to the Oreo taste, I also made a more traditional creme filing that really tasted like Oreo filling. 

 The ganache really enhanced the flavor of the cookie itself, but once filled, the cookies quickly lost their crispness. In the other cookies, the more traditional creme filling seemed to mute the chocolate flavor of the cookies, but they stayed crispy and crunchy much longer. So, while not the perfect homemade version of an Oreo, these are cookies that we quickly devoured and will definitely be making again.

 from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel

 White Chocolate Filling:
 4 ounces (125 grams) 35% white chocolate, chopped
 0.5 ounce (15 grams) Unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla* My addition
 ½ cup + 1 teaspoon (125 grams) Heavy cream

 Chocolate Shortbread:
 1 ¾ cups + 1 ½ tablespoons (259 grams) All-purpose flour
 1 cup + 1 ½ tablespoons (87 grams) Unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
 3/8 teaspoon (1.6 grams) Baking soda
 8 ounces (227 grams) Unsalted butter
 2 teaspoons (6 grams) Kosher salt* I used 1 teaspoon kosher salt
 ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon (161 grams) Granulated sugar

For the filling: Melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring constantly. Meanwhile, bring the cream to just under a simmer. Pour the cream over the melted chocolate and whisk to combine. Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 1 day, until completely chilled.

For the shortbread:
Place the flour in a medium bowl, sift in the cocoa and baking soda, and whisk to combine.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to medium-low speed and mix until smooth. Add the salt and mix for another 15 to 30 seconds. Add the sugar and mix for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds after each, or until just combined, then mix until the dough begins to come together
Mound the dough on the work surface and, using the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper, push it together into a 6-inch-square block. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until firm. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (standard). Line two sheet pans with Silpats or parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and place it between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap. With a rolling pin, pound the top of the dough, working from left to right, to begin to flatten it, then turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat (this will help prevent the dough from cracking as it is rolled). Roll out to a ⅛-inch-thick sheet. If the dough has softened, slide it (in the parchment) onto the back of a sheet pan and refrigerate until firm enough to cut. Using the fluted cutter, cut rounds from the dough. If necessary, push the trimmings together, refrigerate until firm, and reroll for a total of 16 rounds. (Any trimmings can be baked as is, cooled, and ground in the food processor to use as cookie crumbs over ice cream.) If the dough softens, return to the refrigerator until the cookies are firm enough to transfer to a sheet pan. Arrange the rounds on the sheet pans, leaving about I inch between them. (The dough can be shaped in advance; see Note.) Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, turning the pans around halfway through baking, until the cookies are fragrant, with small cracks on the surface. (Because the cookies are so dark, it can be difficult to tell when they are done.) Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
To assemble the cookies: Place the filling in the bowl of the mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat until smooth. Transfer to the pastry bag. Turn half of the cookies over. Pipe ½ inch-long teardrops in a ring on each one, beginning ⅛ inch from the edges of the cookie, and then, working toward the center, pipe concentric rings of teardrops to cover the cookie (use 18 grams of filling per cookie). Top each with a second cookie and press gently to sandwich the cookies. The cookies are best the day they are baked, but they can be stored in a covered container, at room temperature if unfilled, or refrigerated if filled, for up to 3 days.
 Note on advance preparation: The shaped dough can be frozen on the sheet pan—wrapped in a few layers of plastic wrap—for up to 1 month. Transfer to a lined room-temperature sheet pan, and bake from frozen.

Creme filling
Adapted from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 55 grams) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup (50 grams) vegetable shortening
2 cups (240 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

To make the creme, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.