I stumbled across this recipe in the New York Times last week and every day since I have taken butter out of the fridge in anticipation of baking that evening. Those poor sticks of butter have finally fulfilled their purpose this evening--I almost put everything away at the last minute because I didn't think I felt well enough to bake, but I stuck to my guns and the result was a delicious spiced cake to end the weekend!
Plus, it gave me the chance to sneak in some Mozart in the Jungle AKA my catharsis TV show!
Often when I bake things, especially new recipes, my younger sister takes a bite and makes this face that screams mediocrity. But, tonight, she's dipping pieces of the cake into the saucepan of brown butter glaze while doing a little dance in front of the stove. If she loves it, then I know it's good.
This cake is perfect for fall. It's comforting and spiced, perfect as a quick pick-me-up snack or warmed up treat. I get why it's called a "snacking cake," it's not too sweet.
I'm really not a fan of cloves or nutmeg, but I absolutely love pears. So, I took the risk and I couldn't be happier that I did. The spices blend together to create a soft medley of tastes, with the pear coming out strongest. The texture of the cake was moist and light. I have never baked with pears before and I didn't really know what to expect. The result is somewhere between apple cake and banana bread. The brown butter glaze that tops off the cake is absolutely to die for, and it completes the dish. The buttery caramel brings out the notes of fruity pear and soften any edge that may have remained from the cloves and nutmeg. To note, I used mostly organic ingredients. Though I use them because of their higher quality and safety, I think they have a positive impact on the taste of the dish.
When it came to baking the cake, I find buttering and flouring the pan, cutting parchment paper, etc. tiresome. Instead, I spray the pan with a somewhat generous amount of coconut spray from Trader Joe's. It takes 2 seconds, and it doesn't leave an aftertaste!
Another important note about the cake: I was surprised, and a little put off by the recipe's call for oats, but they were barely identifiable in the taste and texture of the cake.
The cake was easy, a "pice of cake" (hehe), to make. You just throw everything together and blend. Now the Brown Butter Glaze, on the other hand, that was difficult. The instructions didn't quite match what was happening in my saucepan so I had to improvise.
The recipe says to simmer the melted butter until the foam sinks to the bottom of the pan and turns brown, but my butter's white foam stayed white and never sank... after about 10 minutes--more than 3 times as long as the recipe said--I figured it had to do and added half the brown sugar. I used light brown sugar since that was all I had, though it called for dark. I whisked and whisked but the sugar just clumped together. After 15 minutes of whisking, I started to panic that I had ruined the glaze. I turned up the heat to medium and kept on stirring, hoping the extra heat would melt the sugar and help the mixture combine. It worked, and after a half hour of beginning this endeavor-in-a-saucepan things were starting to look up. I added the rest of the ingredients and whisked them together like the recipe instructed, and the result was a DELICIOUS caramel sauce. Oh my lord, this shit is good. I'd make this and put it on anything! Fresh fruit, pound cake, ice cream, hell--I'd eat it alone as a dessert soup it's so good.
Anyways, I can't wait to go to sleep now, then wake up and eat it for breakfast! A good way to start the morning before heading off to teach my 8:00am 7th grade Chinese class!
FOR THE CAKE:
- 1 cup/227 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, more to grease the pan
- 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
- ½ cup/100 grams dark brown sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 4 large pears (2 1/4 pounds/1 kilogram), peeled, cored and shredded or finely chopped (to yield 2 1/2 cups)
- 2 ¾ cups/350 grams all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup/75 grams rolled oats
- ½ cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
FOR THE BROWN BUTTER GLAZE:
- 5 tablespoons/70 grams unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons/25 grams dark brown sugar
- 1 cup/125 grams confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons/45 milliliters heavy cream or milk, more as needed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- Prepare the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-2-inch square or 9-inch-round pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
- Using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugars, baking powder, salt, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda and beat for 1 minute. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
- With the mixer on low, beat in half the pears, and then beat in the flour until smooth. Beat in remaining pears, then the oats, beating until well incorporated. Beat in nuts.
- Spread batter in the prepared pan and bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center of the cake, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Prepare the glaze: In a small saucepan, melt butter, then let it simmer until the foam on top falls to the bottom of the pot and turns brown, about 3 minutes. It will smell nutty and rich when it’s ready.
- Whisk in brown sugar until it dissolves. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla and salt until you’ve got a thick glaze with the texture of hot fudge sauce. Spread this over the cooled cake. Let the glaze set for at least 2 hours before serving.