Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pear Cardamom Upside Down [Birthday] Cake

Thanks for the great photo, Dlo!

Ok, so it's a pear marathon. Pearathon? I'm pretty sure I warned you how dorky I am. I'm also pretty sure I warned you about how excited I was to see PEARS at the market. I bought a ton. And right before they were about to spoil I put the final remaining pears (yes, I promise this will be the last post on pears for a while) to good use. You see, my friend Emma was coming into town from Ithaca and without skipping a beat I volunteered to cook a big belated birthday brunch (didn't matter one bit that it was just three days before I had to be moved out of my apartment- I love an excuse to get a good group of friends together and cook!). And there turned out to three other March babies so five birthdays to celebrate in total! No, I'm not math-illiterate. Emma is a twin so one always means two and two plus three is five! Phew, I'm glad we got that cleared up. So five birthdays to celebrate... I had big plans. Frittata, sour dough english muffins, banana bread, and a pear cardamom upside down BIRTHDAY cake. 

Happy Birthday, Dimity, Emma, Elspeth, Bobby, and Evan!

These five are definitely worth it and somehow I managed to wake up early enough on Sunday to pull it off.. Kind of. The only thing that suffered was my poor banana bread because I neglected to add sugar. Did I mention I was hung over? Of course I couldn't speak a word of my baking plans to Steve or else he would surely try to talk me out of making everything. So I dragged myself out of bed, popped a couple ibuprofen and made everything before he opened his eyes. Starting with the banana bread, hence the mishap. It wasn't a total loss. It's flavor was sweet enough because I let the bananas get ripe beyond belief. Their natural sugar was enough to sweeten the bread for sure, it was the texture that lacked. Sugar's role in baking is more complex than that of just adding sweet taste. Sugar attracts moisture in the batter which reduced the amount of gluten formed. Less gluten = more tender crumb + more rise in the oven. The result was a hearty (sugar-free!) loaf. I served it toasted with cultured butter and sea salt. 

Sea-salted banana bread catching some morning sunlight

It didn't ruin my day nor anyone else's I don't think. The frittata was an easy A. Farm fresh eggs, ricotta, leeks, onion, and potatoes, cooked in our good ol' cast iron pan. The sourdough english muffins were a nice surprise for everyone and always fun to make. 

Starting the frittata, english muffins rising in the background
Nooks, Cranny's, Butter

But the real excitement was around the birthday cake. I'm not going to name names but a few of us went in for a second slice. It really was something special. 

Makes one 9-inch cake. Serves 8-10

For the honey caramel: 

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean, seeded (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

For the cake batter:
2 cups all-purpose 
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
5 cardamom pods (grind using mortar and pestle)
3 pears, thinly sliced

For the caramel:
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, place the honey, water and vanilla and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and let the syrup simmer down until thickened, should take 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Pour the caramel into a buttered cake pan.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of cake pan (on top of Carmel sauce). Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt.
Cream butter and sugar in stand mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk (or yogurt) until just combined. Gradually add flour mixture until just incorporated. Don't over mix.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully invert over a plate. Watch out for the oozing honey caramel.

I love the specks of cardamom!

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