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.

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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.)

Lemon Cake with Creamy Wine Frosting and Grapes

There was a time in my life when I used to swear I’d never drink. I couldn’t imagine why would anyone want to slowly ruin their liver and willingly accept premature wrinkles and dark circles under their eyes when they didn’t need to. Then I got older, got married and had kids and many of those I’ll never/I’d never resolutions flew right out of the window. Life has a way of teaching you, that’s all I say.

So this post will be my little tribute to wine, my “how do I love thee” poem, My Ode to Joy that wine brings to my life. These days I think wine is just plain awesome and there is not much it can’t do. Let’s see: It makes us feel beautiful. Happy. Loving. Fearless. (And stupid, but that’s only when you don’t know when to stop.)

But mostly, at least in my case, it just helps us relax and let go. They say wine improves with age, well, I improve with wine. Pretty much every day I run around like a crazy woman all day, trying to be everything for everybody, and no matter how hard I try, I never seem to juggle it all. Either I’m loving and my house is a mess, or the house is spotless, I checked all the boxes in my to-do list for the day, and I even made a delicious three course dinner, but no one actually wants to sit down at the table with me and eat it, because I reached my limit, yelled at everybody around, and now they’re all hiding in the trenches.

But wine makes everything miraculously better. Half a glass is all it takes, and suddenly I don’t care all that much. I haven’t mopped in two weeks? So what. Nobody’s coming over, nobody will know. Whatever. My boys love it when their mother is in the state of whatever. It means nobody is harping at them for leaving socks all over the house or wanting them to get rid of the empty toilet paper roll that’s been living its sad and lonely life on the floor of their bathroom for the past ten days. (Parents, please, explain this one to me if you can. I.just.don’t.get it. Some time ago I even conducted a little experiment entitled “How long can a toilet paper roll stay on the bathroom floor”? After a month a reached the conclusion that somehow they just must not see it. I sighed heavily, picked it up, threw it away,and poured myself a glass. This too shall pass.)

I love cooking with wine and pour it in everything from hearty vegetable soups, risotto, to meat gravy and pasta sauces, but I’ve never tried to use it in a dessert. Until now. When I was stirring  the wine crème that was supposed to be a base for the frosting, I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out, but luckily it all worked out pretty well in the end. The yellow cake has a hint of  lemon in it, and together with creamy wine frosting and sweet fresh grapes it created a lovely cake: Light, fruity, and summery. Make it, and then pour yourself some wine, go sit in the sun, and have a slice. Cheers! Life is good, and wine and cakes make it even better.

Wine-grape cake

Lemon Cake with Creamy Wine Frosting and Grapes

For each of the two layers:
  •  4 medium eggs
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 135 g (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 6 tablespoons Limoncello liqueur
Filling:
  •  500 ml (2 cups) white wine
  • 1 ½ cups white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 40 g (3 tablespoons) cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 400 ml (13 oz.) heavy whipping cream
  • 10 g (1 ½ packets) Knox unflavored gelatin

+ 2 lb. mixed seedless grapes, preferably small, or cut in half; powdered sugar

Wine-grape cake 2

Method:
  1. To make each of the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Line an 9×13” baking pan with parchment paper. (I used a cake pan with removable bottom, slightly bigger than 9×13).
  2. With the mixer on high speed, cream eggs with sugar for about 5 minutes until light yellow and thick. Gradually add hot water and continue whipping. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients, and carefully combine them with the egg-sugar mixture. Use a spatula and be sure not to deflate the eggs. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes, until the top springs back when touched.Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  4. Make the second layer in the same way.
  5. To prepare the creamy wine filling: Mix gelatin powder with ¼ cup water and set aside to “bloom”.
  6. Combine 400 ml (13 oz.) white wine, sugar, and vanilla. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
  7. Meanwhile whisk cornstarch, egg yolks, and remaining wine together. Add couple of tablespoons of hot wine/sugar mixture to temper the yolk mixture, and then pour it into the sweetened wine in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
  8. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in a hot pudding, stirring vigorously. Cool the pudding – gelatin mixture, stirring occasionally. While the pudding is cooling, wash and cut the grapes, and set aside.
  9. Line your pan with clean sheet of parchment paper, and place first cake layer in. Sprinkle the cake with 3 tablespoons of lemon liqueur.
  10. When the mixture is cool and starting to set, whip heavy cream with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar until soft peaks form, and mixing lightly with a spatula, carefully combine it with the pudding. Mix in the grapes.
  11. Spoon the filling onto a cake, smooth it out, and place the second layer on top, pressing lightly. Sprinkle the top cake layer with remaining lemon liqueur. Chill the cake until the creamy wine filling is set, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  12. When ready to serve, sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar and decorate it with grapes.