Sunday, December 9, 2007

time for something sweet

I don’t eat enough fruit. You rarely see me pick up an orange and start peeling it for dessert. I try, oh how I try to be healthier, to boost my vitamin intake with actual vitamin-filled fruits instead of “supplements.” I go on mad spending sprees and stock up. Such a shame. So many apples and bananas sit in the fruit bowl turning brown and mealy, and oranges start to wrinkle (yes it’s possible). So sad.

I could blame it on my upbringing but it would be a lie. My father always has an apple in his hand. My mother is always pushing watermelons and oranges on us like it was the latest flavor from Ben and Jerry’s. I just never went for it – even though I actually like how they taste.

I can’t explain it. But I am trying to fight it.

So I am taking baby steps. I am fooling myself into eating more fruit. I hide it in salads, tuck them into sandwiches, roast them up with all kinds of meats – chicken and figs, pork and apples, and of course bake them. Pies and cakes are my primary sources of fruit intake. Banana cake, apple pie, strawberry tarts, and my favorite afternoon energy boost – l’oranais. OK. So I know they have lost almost all their nutritional value through the baking and sugaring process, but let me dream won’t you.

My latest favorite is the Gateau aux Poires, or the less romantic name - Pear Cake. With all the pears at the market I couldn’t resist hoarding some at home. A few days later I realized I better use them quick or else…. And here is what I discovered and have made again and again before the pears disappear. The basic recipe is from a simple cookbook I was given when I first moved here. I adapted it to add more flavor. The pears practically melt into the cake but not completely so that you bite into a delicious warm chunk here and there. It is important to use flavorful, ripe pears, such as Bosc. I added cinnamon and vanilla to give it a warmer, deeper flavor, and the brown sugar gives it a little caramelisation but not too much so that it’s not a super-sweet cake.

Gateau aux Poires (Pear Cake)

Adapted from « Le bonheur est dans la cuisine » edited by Clorophyl


250 g / 2 cups cake flour****
125 g / 1 stick butter, softened
150 g / ¾ cup sugar
3 medium eggs
4 ripe pears (Bosc are good)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla
1 tbsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C.
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs (one by one) and the vanilla. Mix them in well with the butter-sugar. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Add them to the batter little by little, just until incorporated in. (Read italicized section below.) Don’t over-stir it. I didn’t know this before, but I learned from an aunt that once the flour is in the batter, you are supposed to stir only in one direction.

Set the batter aside.

Peel, core and slice the pears lengthwise into roughly ½ inch-thick pieces. Butter the bottom and sides of a cake pan, and then cover with a sheet of pastry paper. If you have a good non-stick pan, you can probably skip the buttering, but I like to make sure. I used a 22 cm (8 ½ in.) springform pan. Pour the batter into the pan (onto the pastry paper). Layer the pear slices artfully (in a circular pattern, flower patter, as you wish) on top of the batter. Sprinkle the top of the cake evenly with the brown sugar.

Bake for 30-45 minutes. If the top of the cake is browning to quickly – cover with a tent of foil to avoid burning the top. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean – then it’s done.

To get a bit of a crunch to the cake, let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes, take it out of the pan, flip it over placing the top onto the pastry paper this time and put it back in the oven (upside down) for maximum 10 minutes.

Goes great with vanilla ice cream.

**** If you are making this recipe in the US, the flour there is different so you have to adjust the measurement. I have not tested this myself but read that you should reduce the amount by 1/4 when using French recipes in the States. I used cake flour which is much lighter than all-purpose flour. If you want to use all-purpose flour then reduce the amount by at least half. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out. As recommended add the dry ingredients a little at a time until it's incorporated and has a slightly lumpy but wet consistency. It should look like all cake batters and not be very thick. Good luck!


gooner71 said...

Hey Seta,

This recipe looks like it's right up my street. In fact, it's walking up my sidewalk, up the stairs, knocking on the door, and then peeking through the mail-slot to see if I'm home! I'll definitely give this a go.

I'm thinking a mix of sour cream/heavy cream as the garnish.

Thanks. Steve

Belinda said...

Dear Setacig,

This is absolute favorite cake recipe that my mom used to make, except she topped with apples. I definitely like the addition of brown sugar on top or else the fruit does not caramalize. Sometimes, I drizzle the fruit with a little Grand Marnier for a little something special.

I do agree with you though, in the states you must use 1 cup flour or 11/2 cup cake flour instead or the cake is too dense.

And somehow the butter in France tastes butterier, dont you think?


seta said...

Steve - I hope the pear cake decides to stay over for good.

Belinda - you are so right about the butter. It does taste butterier. And the eggs taste eggier. And the fruit tastes like fruit! Don't get me wrong - there's plenty of bland stuff here too. I just find that the good,real, fresh stuff is more accessible and more affordable in France than in the States. That's too bad.