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Gingerbread Cake with Poached Pears and Mascarpone Cream

14 Feb


When you’re married to a lady who likes to make cakes as much as I do, your choice of birthday cake can sometimes require a bit more intense concentration and debate than ever thought logical or necessary. It goes without saying that I have no problem at all making someone a birthday cake as simple as a classic chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, but if anyone so much as mentions that they might want a cake made of something a bit more adventurous, it’s all systems go in my mental cake Rolodex.



How about fruit? Chocolate and fruit? Citrus and chocolate? Citrus and cream? Fruit and cream? How about all of those ideas, because maybe I’ll just make two cakes? (Which, incidentally, I have totally done before. And then I stacked the cakes on top of one another, sandwiched some mocha cream in between them, and made my husband remember why he puts up with slightly obsessive cake talk at all hours—because cake talk turns into cake eating and, oh, yes, it all makes sense now.)


This year, after, once more, talking myself in and out of making more than one cake for my husband’s birthday, we settled on a single cake with a few show-stopping qualities. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to my husband’s 2013 birthday cake: spicy dark gingerbread, layered with smooth mascarpone cream, and studded with juicy poached pears. Just fancy enough to satisfy my desire to make a spectacular cake for a special birthday, but also bursting with classic, humble flavors that provide the cake with a bit of comfortable familiarity. This cake may look like a big burst of song and dance, but it tastes like a giant, loving hug. Which makes for a very happy birthday for anyone.


Last Year: Crisp and Hearty Homemade Granola Bars

Gingerbread Cake with Poached Pears and Mascarpone Cream

Gingerbread Cake

Adapted from Epicurious

1 cup Guinness extra stout or dark beer

1 cup mild-colored (light) molasses

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 8-inch-diameter cake pans. Bring stout and molasses to boil in heavy medium saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up, so be prepared to move pan to the sink if the foam threatens to escape over the sides of the pan). Let stand 1 hour to cool completely.

Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. In a separate medium bowl, whisk eggs and both sugars to blend. Whisk in oil, then stout mixture. Gradually whisk stout-egg mixture into flour mixture. Stir in fresh ginger.

Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into centers of cakes comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap each cake separately in plastic and keep at room temperature.)

Poached Pears

4 cups water

¼ cup sugar

juice from 1 lemon

3 medium-size firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled, sliced in half, core and stems removed

Bring water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. You can poach the pears up to a day ahead if you like, then store the pears, still in their poaching liquid, covered in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to use the pears, drain them thoroughly in a colander or strainer, discarding the liquid. Slice the pears lengthwise into thin strips that can be fanned out in a circle on top of the cake layers.

Mascarpone Cream

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine mascarpone, cream cheese, and butter. Beat on high speed until light and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly add in powdered sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating until combined. Add the vanilla and salt and beat on high speed for about 3 minutes, until everything is smooth, creamy, and fully combined.

To assemble cake, Place one cake layer on a large platter. Spread on 1/3 of the mascarpone cream, leaving clear about a ½-inch edge. Cover the cream with a concentric circle of pear slices. Place another layer of cake on top, cover with half of remaining cream, then cover with another circle of pear slices. Repeat for final cake layer.

Because the mascarpone cream and poached pears do not provide the most stable structure, it is a good idea to stabilize the cake with a few wooden dowels (or trimmed wooden chopsticks, or trimmed wooden skewers). Simply clip 3 dowels or skewers to the proper height, then place them in a circle in roughly the middle 2/3 of the cake. This will keep your cake layers from sliding off of one another. When you are cutting and serving the cake, simply remove each skewer as you get to it.

In Praise of Pie

20 Nov

Though I have previously stated that the best part of a Thanksgiving meal is the plethora of side dishes, I have to confess that, upon further consideration, it has become very clear to me that that statement is simply not true. Because I forgot (I know, what?) about the pie. Of course! The best part of Thanksgiving dinner (or any dinner, should you be so lucky) is the pie. Whether you decide to lean in the direction of traditional (apple pie) or not-so-traditional (lime coconut tart), here are some pie and tart recipes from the Savory Salty Sweet archives that will stoke your dessert fire and get the pie train rolling.

Pear Nougatine Tart:

Dutch Apple Pie:

Salted Chocolate Hazelnut Tart:

Lime Coconut Tart:

Sour Cherry Pieyou’ll have to hunt down some frozen sour cherries (which are not terribly easy to find), but the effort will be totally worth it:

Sky-High Apple Pie:

Easiest Skillet Fruit Pie–this is a great pie for beginning pie-makers, or for people who are looking for a more casual dessert entry.


Easiest Skillet Fruit Pie

12 Nov

Are you familiar with the concept of a skillet pie? Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was not. In fact, until the moment when I found myself with a huge box of fast-ripening pears and one single layer pie crust, it had never really occurred to me to bake a pie with only one crust. Oh, sure, I like single crust pies and tarts, but a baked fruit pie with only one crust? Why would I do that? One of the most enjoyable things about a fruit pie is the fact that it bakes into one big juicy mass of fruit that melts into its cozy pocket of crust. What’s the point of taking away one of those crusts?

To be honest, I don’t really think you need to take away one of those crusts, but, if you want to know how to make a dead simple pie out of nothing more than some fresh fruit, a tiny amount of sugar, and only a single layer of pie crust, well, you’ve come to the right place.

Think of this as a last minute pie, the type of thing you throw together when you find yourself with unexpected company or a zero-hour request that you provide a dinner party dessert. The entire thing comes together in no time at all, and you use the same pan to both sauté the fruit and bake the pie. All of the great caramelized juices from the pears stay in the pan, allowing everything to mingle and get cozy while the top crust bakes. It’s a great pie for new bakers, for people short on time, one just for people who love pie. Really, it’s just a great pie, period.

Last Year: Butternut Squash Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

Easiest Skillet Fruit Pie Recipe

I use a 12-inch skillet to make this pie, as it provides a good amount of surface area in which to cook the fruit. If you only have a smaller skillet, say, a 10-inch one, you may have to divide your fruit into more batches when you cook it initially.

4 pounds ripe pears or apples

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 single layer pie crust (my favorite pie crust recipe is below)

Flaky Tart and Pie Dough Recipe

From Tartine

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup (5 ½ ounces) very cold ice water

3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (1 pound) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 5 tablespoons (10 ½ ounces) very cold unsalted butter

pinch of sea salt

In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve.  Place in the freezer to keep super cold until ready to use.

Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor, or in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces, then scatter over the flour.  If using a food processor, pulse the mixture briefly until it forms into large crumbs and some of the pieces of butter remain pea-sized.  If making the dough by hand, cut the butter into the dough using a pastry cutter.  You will want the dough to have the same crumb-like look with some large pea-sized chunks of butter throughout.

Drizzle the salt and water mixture over the dough and, if using a food processor, pulse until the dough comes together into a ball but is not completely smooth.  You should still see visible butter chunks.  If mixing the dough by hand, drizzle the salt and water mixture over the dough while tossing with a fork.  The dough should come together in a shaggy mass.  Gently mix the dough together until it comes together in a ball but is not completely smooth.  As with the food processor dough, you should still see visible butter chunks.

Divide the dough into 2 equal balls on a lightly floured surface.  Shape each ball into a disk about 1 inch thick.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Makes 2 9-inch or 10-inch tart or pie shells, enough for 2 single-crust pies or tarts, or 1 double-crust pie.

To make the pie:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel and core the pears or apples. If your fruit is super fresh (meaning, if it is in season and has spent only a handful of weeks in between being on a tree and being in  your kitchen) you don’t even need to peel the fruit, as the skin should be very thin and flavorful. Cut the pears or apples in half, then in quarters.

In a large cast iron skillet set over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of the dark brown sugar, and allow it to melt into the butter just slightly (about 30 seconds to 1 minute). Add a small pinch of sea salt. Add half of the quartered fruit, making sure that the fruit is laying in a single layer. Sauté fruit until it is just starting to caramelize on one side. For the pears I used, which were super ripe, this only took about 3 minutes since the juices were just flowing out of them once they hit the hot pan. For less ripe pears, or for firm apples, it could take up to 7 or 8 minutes. Carefully turn the fruit over and caramelize on the other side (again, this could take anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes). Pour cooked fruit into a large bowl, scraping out the caramelized sugar along with it. Add the second tablespoon of butter, the second tablespoon of sugar, a small pinch of sea salt, then the rest of the fruit, and cook in the same manner as you did the first batch. If the sugar and butter start to brown too quickly, turn the heat down to low. When the fruit has cooked, remove the pan from the heat, add in the first batch of fruit, stir gently to combine, and set aside.

On a floured surface, roll out the single-layer pie crust into a circle roughly 1 inch larger than the size of your pan. Gently place the round of dough over the fruit in the skillet, then tuck under any overhanging edges. Slice air vents in the crust. If you want, you can sprinkle a little turbinado sugar over the top of the crust, or brush the crust with a beaten egg, but you certainly don’t have to do either.

Bake the pie in the center of the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the top crust is dark golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating. The filling will be molten hot.

Serve with freshly whipped cream, whipped with just a pinch of cinnamon.

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