Pear Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Caramel and Walnuts

Last weekend marked our 21st wedding anniversary. Technically, we reached adulthood, and should conduct ourselves in line with our adult status… but honestly, especially when things don’t go the way we want them to and disagreements ensue, we can clearly see just how much that’s not the case. Those heated (and hated) squabbles are a perfect mirror to show us how immature we can still be and how much there still remains to learn. We certainly don’t possess the secret to a happy marriage… but that doesn’t mean we haven’t grasped anything in our years together or that we wouldn’t be growing. We are. Every day.

Marriage is hard work. It’s a relationship like no other, and will teach you more about yourself than you’ve ever wanted to know. It will show you just how much power you have over the heart of the other person and what can happen if you’re not careful. Seeing the pain in the eyes of your closest companion hurts… but knowing you’re the one who’s inflicted it, and that you’ll more than likely do it again hurts that much more.

If I know something after all these years, it’s that being happily married is not the same as living happily ever after. Rather, it’s knowing that someone has your back… realizing that you’ve been seen at your worst and you’re still loved. It’s having that safe place next to someone, and even more importantly, trying to be that safe space for someone else. Still learning that one… and feeling like the slowest student at times.

Sometimes it feels like a never ending one step forward and two steps back dance. It can feel tiring and even pointless trying your hardest to build something day after day, only to see it come crashing down a little later. But here is the thing – if you’re lucky enough to have someone who’s willing to pick up the pieces with you and start over, step by step, brick after brick – then after time, the walls will be back up again. And when the sun breaks through the windows, it lets you see just how tall they are and how far you’ve come. Sure, they’re not perfect… who knows, they may even be a tad crooked and there are cracks in them here and there… but it’s your home, home that you’ve built together, and it’s warm and cozy nonetheless.

To David: Thank you for staying in the ring with me.

*****

And since marriage has the power to turn your life upside down… :-),  we celebrated with this fall-ish upside down cake! Pears go phenomenally with walnuts, and the sweet caramel syrup soaked into the cake and together with the poached fruit and buttermilk made the cake super moist. I think next time I might try apples or plums in place of pears; the cake is versatile and I’m sure it’ll be super yummy either way!

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Pear Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Caramel and Walnuts

Cake:
  • 230 g (8 oz.) all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¾ cup finely chopped/coarsely ground walnuts
  • 113 g (4 oz., 8 tablespoons) softened unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs, 1 separated, 1 left whole
  • 150 g (5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
  • ½ cup buttermilk
Pomegranate Molasses:
  • 2 cups (500 ml) pomegranate juice
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pomegranate Caramel Syrup:
  • ¼ cup premade pomegranate molasses
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

+ 4 small Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and halved

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Method:
  1. First, make pomegranate molasses: In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and becomes syrupy, about 3o minutes. Don’t let all the liquid evaporate; watch it closely at the end, so it doesn’t turn into caramel and burn. Let the mixture cool slightly, and transfer it into a glass jar. (The molasses can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can use store bought pomegranate molasses).
  2. Prepare molasses caramel syrup: In a big shallow pan, combine all the ingredients listed. Cook to melt the butter and dissolve the sugar, about 2 minutes. Add the pears, cut side up, and cook undisturbed until they start to release their juices, about 3 minutes. Turn them over, and cook just until slightly softened, about 3 minutes more. Remove the pears from the syrup and let them cool slightly.
  3. Return the pan to medium heat and cook the liquid until thickened and syrupy, about 3 minutes, depending on the juiciness of the pears. Set the syrup aside.
  4.  Line a 9-inch (22 cm) round springform pan with parchment paper, butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 35o °F (176 °C). Arrange the pears, cut side down onto the parchment in the pan. Pour the caramel syrup over the fruit and chill the springform pan while you prepare the cake batter to set up the syrup.
  5. Prepare the cake batter: Using an electric mixer, whip butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla, orange zest, 1 whole egg, and 1 egg yolk. Lastly, slowly pour in the buttermilk and combine.
  6. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients except nuts. Whip the egg white until firm peaks form. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture alternating with the whipped egg white. At the end fold in the walnuts. The batter should be fairly thick.
  7. Pour the cake batter carefully over the pears in the pan and smooth out the top. Bake the cake in the preheated oven until the cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
  8. Run knife around edges and open the springform mechanism. Invert the cake onto a plate and carefully remove the parchment paper. Serve with cinnamon whipped cream if desired.

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Pear Dumplings with Walnut – Raisin Stuffing and Honey – Wine Sauce

The days are getting shorter – and colder – and rainier! – as we slowly move toward winter. This weekend we even get to turn our clocks back, so as of next week, it’ll be dark by 4 p.m.! The kids will be waiting for their school buses in the pitch dark in the morning, and by the time they get home, it’ll be dark again. Yay! Can you tell how excited I am?! I so wish we could just move our clock forward to May right now!

Thankfully, there are things that help me to get over my rainy blues, namely lots and lots of wonderful fall produce that we have at our fingertips these days. And even though apples are often praised as the perfect autumn fruit, I want to kick them out of the spotlight for a minute and instead focus on their humble cousins, pears, because I think they’re being undeservedly ignored. To me they’re way cooler than apples; they can be crunchy, sweet, or buttery, and with so many varieties we can find at the stores these days, there really isn’t anything they wouldn’t be great in. Salads, relishes, tarts, sweet or savory dishes, pears are extremely versatile and work in everything!

I paired them up with puff pastry and made a simple but elegant dessert. Either homemade or store-bought, I adore puff pastry, because it’s just so easy and when it puffs up high, coated with golden egg wash, it looks terrific. And I also added wine, honey, and cinnamon for a good measure. As it gets cold outside, I start going through cinnamon like crazy. It’s a wonderful warming spice and even when there is a scary wind storm or horrible downpour banging against the roof, as long as we’re warm and there is a waft of cinnamon in the air, I feel that everything is ok with the world 🙂

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Pear Dumplings with Walnut – Raisin Stuffing and Honey – Wine Sauce

(4 servings; adapted from Nejlepší recepty 3/2015)

Quick Puff Pastry – makes about 500 g (1 lb.) of dough:
  • 235 g (7.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 60 g (2 oz.) cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 250 g (1/2 lb.) cold unsalted butter
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) iced water
For the pears:
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) puff pastry (reserve remaining pastry for later use)
  • 4 smaller firm Bosc pears
  • 800 ml (27 oz.) pear juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 50 g (2 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 50 g (2 oz.) golden brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk – for egg wash
Walnut – Raisin Stuffing:
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Honey Wine Sauce:
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) liquefied honey
  • 5 tablespoons sweet dessert wine
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 50 ml (2 oz.) water
  • 4 – 5 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon

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Method:
  1. Make the puff pastry: Place the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor; pulse to combine. Cut in the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles large peas. Lastly add the iced water and pulse just until the dough forms a ball. Wrap and chill the dough until needed.
  2. Prepare the walnut – raisin filling by combining all of the ingredients together; chill until needed.
  3. Cook the pears: Combine pear juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a deep saucepan. Peel the pears. Remove the core, leaving the top with the stem intact. Place the pears in the syrup so they are completely submerged. Cook the pears for about 10 minutes until soft. Don’t overcook. Remove the pears from the syrup and let them cool.
  4. Assembling the pears: Fill the pear cavities with the walnut – raisin filling. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled pastry and cut it into long thin strips. Cover the opening on the bottom of each pear with a piece of dough, and then carefully wrap the dough strips around the pears. Place the pears on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill while preheating the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  5. Brush the dough with egg wash and bake the pears for about 15 – 20 minutes until the dough is puffed up and golden brown.
  6. While the pears are baking, prepare the honey wine syrup: Combine all the ingredients together and cook until the syrup thickens.
  7. Serve the pears with the syrup, warm or at a room temperature.

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Note:

You can also cut the cooked pears in half, fill the small cavity with stuffing and place them cut side down on the rolled out pastry, and trace the dough around them with a sharp knife, outlining the pear form. Add a small cut out leaf, brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 375 °F (190 °C)  for 20 minutes.

Spiced Pear Chocolate Caramel Cake

This week marked our wedding anniversary – unbelievable twenty years. Mountains and valleys, leavings and comebacks, withdrawals and togetherness. Loving another person is not easy. The man I stand next to today is certainly not the guy I married… the guy I promised to love but in fact had no clue how. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to.

And I still do.

We’re so different from where we started – young and eager to do life together. The journey brought us immense joy… and also challenges I’d never have anticipated on my wedding day; where the only thing one could do was to take the next step. Through clenched teeth, in the dark.  But as for me, all those growing pains have been worth it… because knowing there is this one person you can  come home to every day to is the best.

Thanks to all those years living with a photographer I learned one thing. Everything is always about the light. You might have wrinkles deep as canyons and countless blemishes inside and out, but when a photographer loves you, he makes sure to show you in just the right light. Suddenly, you’re flawless. And beautiful.

And that’s what he does for me.

***

And the cakes are something I do for him. He doesn’t like cakes that are too airy and fluffy, and prefers something more substantial to sink his teeth into. When I came across this recipe, it had Mr. Photographer’s name written all over. First, THE CHOCOLATE – dark and bitter. Then, autumn pears poached in WINE which made them fragrant and delicious. And lastly, WHISKEY! The recipe called for 1 tablespoon, but I am not exactly known for following recipes, and prefer to play in the kitchen… so  I added a good splash 🙂 If that’s not a “manly” cake, I don’t know what is!

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Spiced Pear Chocolate Caramel Cake

(adapted from http://84thand3rd.com)

Cakes:
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup golden brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 100 ml red wine
  • 150 g (5 oz.) butter
  • pinch salt
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, broken up
  • 1 tablespoon whiskey
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 35 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 130 g (4.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (for gluten-free option see Note)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Wine poached pears:
  • 4 firm pears, peeled, halved, and cored
  • 1 ½ cups each water and red wine
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

+ 1 cup heavy whipping cream whipped with 2 teaspoons powdered sugar (for serving, optional)

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Method:
  1. To poach the pears, combine wine, water, sugar, and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Carefully add pear halves to the poaching liquid, and cook over low heat until the pears are just tender. Don’t overcook. Remove the pears from the wine syrup (reserve the liquid), let them cool, and then cut each half in half again, so that you will have 16 quarters. Reduce the poaching liquid by half, and serve as a syrup with the cake, if desired.
  2. For the cake, butter and flour two 9-inch (23 cm) tart pans with removable bottom. (If you’re making the cake for a person that’s gluten – intolerant, make sure to use a gluten-free flour for this.) Line the pans with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C).
  3. Make the caramel: Combine sugar and water in a deep non-stick pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down and let simmer until the water evaporates and the sugar turns nice golden color. Don’t stir, because stirring encourages crystallization – just gently swirl the sugar syrup in the pan from time to time. When the water evaporates, watch the sugar closely, and take it off the heat the moment it starts to caramelize – it will continue to darken even off the heat, and you don’t want it to burn.
  4. When the sugar turns to caramel, immediately pour the wine over it (it will sizzle and the caramel will crystallize). Return the pan to the heat, bring to a boil, remove from the heat again and stir, until the caramel melts.(This took a while.) Add the butter and salt. Lastly, add the chocolate, and stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir in the whiskey and let the mixture cool slightly.
  5. To make the cakes, combine the flour, cocoa, soda, and salt. Set aside.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. Slowly and carefully add about a third of the caramel – chocolate mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs, and then combine the tempered eggs with the rest of the caramel – chocolate mixture.
  7. Add in the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk, and ending with the flour mixture. Stir just until combined.
  8. Pour the batter into prepared pans and smooth out the tops. Carefully arrange 8 pear quarters on top of each cake.
  9. Bake for about 25 minutes until just firm in the center. Let the cakes cool in pans before removing. Serve with whipped cream and sweet wine syrup if desired.
Note:

If making the cake gluten-free, swap the all-purpose flour for your favorite gluten-free mix. (Be sure to add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum, if your mix doesn’t contain it already.)