Tuesday, January 28, 2014

might as well bake a cake.

I think it's safe to say that as I write this, almost everyone I know is in a place that is really, really cold. According to my omniscient iPhone, in Nashville it's 16, in Charleston 32, in Atlanta 19, and in Bamberg 30 (and on top of that it's hailing there). So, I win the coldest place contest, but to be honest it's not a victory I want to claim.

I don't know about you, but when it's cold (read: under 50 degrees) all I want to do is wrap myself in a blanket, read novels, eat carbs, and drink wine. (I hate how much that sounds like the start of a chick lit novel, but I suppose mass marketing gets you somewhere.)

Anyway, since "read The Witness of Preaching" and "write a paper about theology and suffering" are not on the list of things I want to do, I figured I'd put them off by writing something about a cake that I made before Christmas. This is no ordinary cake. I asked for a cookbook specifically because of this cake. It's quite the project, more like two desserts in one, as it involves peeling and poaching pears on top of making batter and a glaze. So, what I'm really saying is that it's the perfect project for a snow day. If you're stuck inside, why not make something beautiful and delicious?

A couple of small but important notes: 1) make sure you poach the pears until they feel tender enough that you think you could eat them easily with a fork. I didn't poach mine long enough and this made the cake a bit difficult to eat without a knife; 2) if you don't want a huge cake, you can cut this recipe in half and make it in a loaf pan, which is how it was originally written.

cardamom cake with whole pears & white chocolate
adapted from homemade winter, by Yvette Van Boven
serves 16-20

for pears:
6 medium crisp, firm pears, peeled but whole, with stems left on
1 (750-ml) bottle dry white wine
2 1/2 c sugar
8 whole cloves
6 star anise
16 cardamom pods
4 cinnamon sticks

for cake:
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, softened
2 c sugar
8 eggs
3 c self-rising flour
2 tbsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz white chocolate, cut into chunks

Poach the pears: in a large saucepan, combine the pears, wine, 2 1/2 c sugar, cloves, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon and poach for 30 minutes over low heat, or until you can easily pierce the pears with a fork.

Take the pears out of the poaching liquid and set them aside to cool. Add 2 1/2 c water to the poaching liquid, turn to medium-high, and boil to reduce the liquid by half. (Watch this carefully so you don't burn it--which is what I did!) Let cool.

Make the cake: preheat the oven to 350. Using a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift the flour, cardamom, and salt over the batter and gently fold it in with a spatula.

Grease a large tube pan, and spoon the batter into the pan. Press the pears into the batter, stem ends up. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in the pan, then gently remove it to cool completely on a wire rack. (You might want to find a helper for this part--you have to flip it twice to make it right side up, and it can be tricky to hold this massive cake with one hand without breaking off the pear stems...or just breaking the cake! But I have faith in you.)

Melt the white chocolate: set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir the chocolate in the bowl until melted. Using a spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the cake.

Let the chocolate dry for a bit before serving the cake in thick slices, with the reduced pear syrup poured on top.

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