When I was growing up my paternal grandmother made a dessert she called “Swedish Cream” on Christmas day. It was rich beyond imagining (at least when I was a child) and its arrival meant the festivities were coming to a close, because we’d all slip into a Christmas Swedish Cream dream state and the adults dozing off usually followed. Much, much later in life, while at culinary school, I realized it was a sour cream panna cotta that she’d been making all those years. My Pear Panna Cotta Cake is inspired by my Granny’s dessert, but I went a little pastry chef with it. I combined Swedish Cream with a poached pear puree and then topped it with a layer of the poaching liquid delicately set into a Jelly with gelatin and put it on a base of almond joconde sponge cake. The dessert is multiple layers and it takes a wee bit of time, but it is actually super easy to make. You can also stop with one or two layers if that’s all time allows. To decorate the sides I sliced pears on a mandoline and dried them in the oven, which couldn’t be easier and they look so stunning. In her memory I will carry on my Granny’s tradition of ending the holiday meal with a smooth, rich, delicate Pear Panna Cotta Cake.
Cardamom is the quintessential flavor of the holidays in Scandinavian countries. I hadn’t used it much before moving to Minnesota, where Swedish and Norwegian baking is part of the fabric of this community’s tradition. It is also the perfect spice for pears, which have such a subtle flavor and absorb the intense spice when poached. I started with very firm pears and poached them slowly, so they would take on as much of the cardamom poaching liquid as possible. After the pears were poached to the point of just succumbing to the tines of a fork, but not too soft as to be mushy, I put them in a cardamom and orange cake batter, that I adapted from a Bake from Scratch recipe. When I put the pears into the batter they want to slump into the cake and bake under the surface. I did a little MacGyver engineering and secured them upright in the pan, so they would be standing straight when they came out of the oven. I must say that I was pretty pleased with the results. Recipe below.
This weekend represents the transition between summer vacation and the start of the school year. It’s not the official change of seasons, but it might as well be. It is also when we switch from summer fruits to the fall harvest. Apples and pears are making their way onto the pages of instagram, but the summer fruits are still around too. This Pear Raspberry Upside-Down Cake is the gate between the seasons. It’s the best of summer and the celebration of what is to come this fall. You can certainly make this without the raspberries, but they really brighten up the flavor and add a pop of color, which will be so longed for in a couple of months.
I started by caramelizing the pears, as I would for a tart tatin. Slow and steady is the trick to getting the right flavor and texture. If you cook the pears too fast they turn to mush without absorbing the caramel. I added a few raspberries for color and acidity. The brown sugar cake base is one I use from Dorie Greenspan, but I folded raspberries into batter. The combination of the caramel pears, the bright raspberries and the rich cake is pretty close to perfection. You can watch me make this start to finish in my instagram video.
I need to give Stephani Bloomquist a shoutout and tell you all about the page she set up, so that all of the equipment I use in my posts is gathered in one spot. You asked for it and she made it happen. It takes a village to bake, blog, video and do all that goes with it. I am super grateful to have her on my team! And, here is the page she set up. ZoeBakes Favorite Equipment Page! We’ll be adding and organizing, but here’s the start:
I think tarts are an under appreciated art form. The sweet, tender crust is the perfect frame for just about any filling. This one has poached pears laying in a bed of almond cream and surrounded by toasted almonds. The flavor combination is classically French and looks sophisticated enough to be served at any special occasion. But, it’s really quite simple to create and there’s no reason not to have it on a Tuesday or for breakfast or as an after school snack. Read More
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!