I’ve always loved pears, although I should confess that as a kid I loved them from a can, thoroughly soaked in a sugary syrup. You see, as a kid I could never get the timing right on when a pear was ripe. I’d get a few (or mom would bring some home) and then set to eating them right away only to end up disappointed.
Later on, I tried waiting for the pears to ripen. I would wait … and wait … and wait. I thought a ripe pear should be soft — that only seemed reasonable to me. So by the time I thought the pears were soft enough to be ripe, they were in reality well past their prime.
I wasn’t that bright, evidently. It didn’t really occur to me to ask anyone, check the web, or to otherwise find out how to tell if a pear was ripe. I just assumed that the pears I was buying were not great pears. I blamed the pears.
But there was one day among all the others when a few more of my brain cells than normal must have been on the job. I had a moment of self-doubt and thought for a second that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the pears’ fault. It was time to figure this out once and for all.
And now, fresh pears and me are besties. (For anyone similarly challenged — a pear is ripe when it smells like a pear and when the flesh just under the stem gives a bit when you apply gentle pressure with your finger.) Pears are available in the winter when there aren’t a lot of produce choices, they’re portable, and there’s something that’s a little fancy about them and the sexy shape they have. Apples and oranges are great, but they’re definitely not as sexy as pears.
It’s hard to improve on the experience of eating a fresh pear out of hand, on its own. But if in the mood to bake with pears, I often turn to this simple cake. The cake still allows the pears to shine. You could even substitute canned pears and have it any time of year — just as long as they’re not the kind in the heavy sugary syrup.
- ¾ cup flour
- ¾ tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 4-5 ripe pears (Bartlett, D’Anjou or Bosc are all fine)
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. almond extract
- ¼ pound (1 stick) butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter an 8-inch springform pan. You could also use a regular cake pan with a circle of parchment paper put in the bottom to help you in unmolding — butter before and after placing the parchment circle in the bottom.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside
- Peel, halve, core and cut the pears into largish chunks. I usually cut each pear half into 6-8 pieces.
- In a larger bowl, whisk the sugar and the eggs together until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla and almond extract. Now add half of the flour mixture, whisking until incorporated, then half the butter, the rest of the flour and then the rest of the butter, whisking after each addition. The batter will be thick.
- Fold in the pear chunks. Stir them around to cover them in the batter, then pour/scrape everything into your cake pan and bake for 50-60 minutes. It will be done when the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and when a knife stuck into the center comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool on a rack until it’s almost cool. Then run a butter knife around the sides of the pan to make sure there is no fruit stuck to the sides. If you’ve used a springform pan and want to remove it from the bottom, the best way to do it is to carefully run a long spatula or knife between the cake and the pan, then invert the cake onto a rack, remove the pan bottom, and re-invert the cake onto a serving plate. If you’ve used a regular cake pan, the inverting procedure is similar — the parchment paper will help the cake release from the pan when inverted and should be carefully peeled away before re-inverting.
- The cake can be served plain, but I like it with a dusting of powdered sugar just before serving. It will keep for a few days at room temperature.