I have been a busy bee but nonetheless a happy one. Earlier last week, I received a wonderful surprise from the editors at the Getty Images. They asked if I would perhaps be interested in having them sell a few of my photographs that you might have seen here at A Brown Table. I was speechless, which if you know me well enough, is not something that happens too often. What started out as a creative hobby to share my passion for cooking has blossomed into something unexpectedly greater than I could have every imagined. I have you, my family at home and friends to thank, for your constant support.
This year, we unintentionally stayed away from chocolate for our Valentine's day dessert. The blame truly lies with a leftover pear and a bottle of a Barbaresco red wine that were sitting out at the kitchen counter. Pears are such a juicy delight especially in winter. They seem so delicate but are yet so sturdy when it comes to cooking. I still love to sink my teeth into a ripe and juicy pear and then lick the nectar as it trickles down my fingers, just as I did when I was a child. Somethings will never change!
There is also another crazy secret that I must reveal here, I love slitting vanilla beans open. It might just be one of the top 100 things or so to do in a kitchen. When I open the beans, I want to collect every little black vanilla seed and not let any go to waste. As crazy as this sounds, I've actually debated on taking the leftover pods and sneaking them under my pillows at night, so I can sleep enmeshed by its fragrant love. Sssh, don't tell anyone!
There were a few tricks to this delicious pear cake. Since pears are an acidic fruit, baking with pear pulp could be tricky. I was mostly worried about the fruit's natural acid from reacting with the baking soda and leaving me stuck with a flat and dense cake. Thankfully the endless hours of biochemistry classes from graduate school always seem to find a way into my kitchen. To prevent the acid from neutralizing the role of the baking soda in the cake batter, I increased the amount of baking soda. The second trick was to add the mashed pear pulp at the final stage of the cake batter preparation. The final key to success with this pear cake, is bake the cake immediately, as soon as the pear pulp is blended in, this will reduce any time for acid neutralization of the baking soda. Glazing this cake is easy, just pour all the sauce over the top of the cake and let it drip by itself from the sides. Do not even bother to wipe the excess red wine sauce from the base of the plate, you can scoop some of it with every slice you cut. Believe me, your guests will thank you for the "mess", this one time.
red wine glazed pear and vanilla cake
for the cake
1 large ripe bosch/anjou pear
1/2 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
butter and flour to grease the cake pan
spiced red wine sauce
1 cup barbaresco red wine (use a young red wine)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel and core the pear and then coarsely chop and place the fruit in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave the fruit for 30-45 seconds and then mash the fruit with a fork to make a puree. Prepare a 9" round cake pan by greasing the sides with butter and sprinkling a little flour on the sides. Whisk the flour and baking powder together and keep aside. Cream together the butter and the sugar. Carefully add one egg at a time to the creamed butter-sugar mixture and beat them in completely. With a blunt knife take one of the halved vanilla beans and scrape out all the little black seeds. Transfer the seeds into the creamed mixture and beat again till dispersed. Add 1/4 of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat till incorporated. Similarly, add the rest of the flour mixture in 1/4 proportions to the batter till completely mixed. The mashed pear pulp will be cool by now, reserve one tablespoon aside. Gently fold in the rest of the pear pulp into the cake batter and immediately pour it out on to the pre-greased cake pan. Bake for about 30-45 minutes or till a knife comes out clean from the center. Once the cake is baked, allow it to cool for 10 minutes in the cake pan and then for another 1 hour on a wire rack. Chill the cake for about 30 minutes before decorating it with the wine sauce.
In a thick-bottomed stock pot, heat all the ingredients together, including the extra pear pulp that was reserved earlier from the cake. Strip the rest of the vanilla bean to extract the seeds and add it to the pot. You can also add the left-over stalk of the vanilla bean from the cake to this. Let the entire contents reduce to about 50ml. Remove and discard the cinnamon and vanilla bean stalks. This sauce will thicken as it cools down. You may need to warm it up again
Put the cake on a turntable and pour the sweet red wine sauce in the center of the cake and allow the excess sauce to drip from the sides. Chill the cake again in the refrigerator to allow the sauce to set. You can then bring the cake to room temperature before serving.