This Wednesday, I got a day off from my winter break gig of wiping runny noses, refereeing fights, and listening to stories of why Transformers RescueBots is “the bestest ever” for three little ones. A lot of good things happened that day. My family had a respite from me forcing them to watch adorable videos of the baby I’m nannying blowing raspberries. I helped tutor some of my favorite kids I worked with this summer. Twitter had a reprieve from me doing odd things like live-tweeting Dora. But probably the best thing to come out of my day off was this cake.
This cake incorporates so many things I love. Seasonal produce! (The fruit section in most grocery stores is so pitiful lately, I’m glad at least pears are in season.) Brown butter! (Have you heard of it? It will change your life.) Homemade caramel sauce! (Mmm, so good and so simple.)
It’s the perfect cake to make on a lazy day; there’s a fair amount of steps involved, but none of it is hard and it’s worth it in the end.
The first thing you do is peel and dice the pears. I used a mix of Red and Bartlett, but any type of pear will do. Pro tip from me to you: use pears that are ripe but fairly firm. If they’re too ripe, you’ll end up with a juicy mess on your hands. You only need five for this recipe, but buy six so you have one to snack on while it’s baking. You’ll thank me.
I cut my finger while doing this, because I have the knife skills of a two year-old, and, inexplicably, the first band-aids I found were Dora the Explorer, even though the youngest person in my household is a 13 year-old boy. Also, my nail polish is atrocious, but let’s not dwell on any of this because we have more important things to talk about, like BROWN BUTTER!
Brown butter, simply, is melted butter cooked a little longer. It sounds boring, but it is more than the sum of its parts. It has a magical nutty flavor, and once you try it, every time a recipe calls for melted butter you will wonder if it would be better browned. The answer is yes.
The construction of this cake is a bit different than most. You beat the eggs for what feels like a ridiculously long time, until they look a bit like this:
From here, you work quickly before it loses volume, which is why it’s crucial to have the butter browned and the dry ingredients mixed before you begin whipping the eggs. The pears are not folded into the batter, but spread on top. However, as the cake bakes, the pears are enveloped by it, as you can see in the pictures of the final cake below.
By itself, this cake is delicious. But we don’t have to stop there. I suggest we go all out. I suggest caramel sauce. And since you already have heavy whipping cream for the sauce, why not whip it up with a little sugar and vanilla and make this truly decadent? Then you can drizzle the caramel sauce all fancy-like, and pretend you’re at a nice restaurant eating dessert, instead of in your kitchen eating cake for breakfast. No shame though, cake for breakfast is totally acceptable. Especially when your cake is this good.
Spiced Pear & Brown Butter Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus 2 tbsp
5 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
14 tbsp unsalted butter (1+¾ stick – but don’t worry, you’ll use the other 2 tbsp for caramel)
5 eggs, at room-temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
5 pears, peeled, in a small dice
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Oil and flour a 13×9 pan.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
Stir the diced pears with two tablespoons of flour. This helps give the batter something to hold on to when it’s baking, so they won’t sink to the bottom as much. (In theory, anyway.)
In a medium saucepan, brown the butter. Start by melting on medium heat. Once it is entirely melted, continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will foam, then turn clear yellow and bubble, then, in a moment, turn brown and smell gloriously nutty. Cook it about a minute past when you first start to notice it turning brown. It should end up looking like the second photo of butter above. Set aside in a warm place.
Next, beat the eggs into oblivion in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high. No really, beat them for 7-9 minutes, until pale and thick with only small bubbles instead of the initial froth. If you have a KitchenAid or similar stand mixer: 1) I am so jealous of you, and 2) you can let it do its job with the eggs while you brown the butter and save some time.
Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating it on high for another minute or two. Turn the mixer to low, and alternately add one third of the flour mixture and half of the browned butter. As you add the last portion of flour, turn the mixer off and use a spatula to stir the ingredients until just combined. Spread the batter in your prepared pan, and then sprinkle the pears evenly on top.
Bake for 40-50 minutes – mine took exactly 45 minutes both times – or until the edges start to pull away and a toothpick comes out clean.
Serve with caramel sauce, below, and whipped cream, barely sweetened, with vanilla.
Easy Peasy Caramel Sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of salt
Whisk the ingredients together in a small saucepan, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until warm and thickened. Serve immediately, and refrigerate any leftovers. Reheat in microwave for 30 seconds to serve again.
Your turn: Have you ever tried brown butter? What’s your favorite winter fruit or vegetable?