This is the quintessential fall cake.
Poached pears were the symbol of a sophisticated dessert when I was a kid. Not that we ever had them, but I saw them standing tall on the pages of Gourmet magazine and always thought how magical it would be to eat something so beautiful. They’re just so elegant and complex and generally boozed up with wine. I poached these in a chai tea cider mixture and they are just as satisfying without the buzz. The cake is spicy with a kick of freshly grated ginger and tons of warm spice from cloves and cinnamon. It’s by no means an overly sweet cake, which is how I like them. The molasses gives it color and that edge of bitter that I love. I’ve made it using more molasses and I love it, but I mellowed it down by adding some brown sugar to the mix. I think this is a perfect Thanksgiving dessert!
4 firm pears, peeled, cored (I use a melon baller to core), but stems left on (I used bosc, but any will do as long as they are very firm. Soft pears will just turn to mush when you poach them)
4 cups cider
2 cups black tea
6 cardamom pods (I left them whole so they wouldn’t over power everything else, but if you want a more intense flavor, crush them slightly before adding to the cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 inch piece ginger, cut into pieces
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, well packed
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon freshly Grated ginger, more to taste
3/4 cup black tea
To poach the pears. Combine the cider, spices and tea in a large pot. Add pears and simmer. Cook pears until they are tender. The timing will depend on how firm your pears are. To check to see if they are done, scoop the pears out of the liquid with a slotted spoon and poke the inside of the pear with a fork. It should still resist, but not be too hard. The pear will continue to soften as it bakes in the cake. Remove the pears and set aside.
Save poaching liquid to make cocktails or drink as is.
To make the cake:
preheat over to 350°F
Whisk together the flour, spices, salt and soda, set aside.
Cream the butter and sugars together. Add the molasses and ginger and mix to combine. Add the egg and mix. Alternate adding the dry and tea to the mix, 1/3 dry, then half liquid, dry, liquid and always end with dry. Mix only enough to combine.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Set the pears into the batter.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. I know this is a crazy range of time, but depending on the size and temperature of your pears it may take a very long time for the cake to set. Check with a tester and when it comes out with moist crumbs it is done.
Cool in the pan until you can comfortably hold the pan. Lift the cake out with parchment and cool completely before slicing.
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