It seems every time I bake with a pear it’s because it’s on the verge of turning to sweet slush in the fruit bowl. This isn’t a cake for new arrivals from the supermarket – its for those pears that have evolved, ripened beyond any other usability. Grating them – don’t bother peeling their thin, delicate skins – turns them into a sloshy, slurpy pile of almost pear sauce that’s perfect for moist cakes, muffins and loaves. Make sure you grate them onto a plate with a rim, to capture all that juice.
I like a dense, damp, not-too-sweet cake with a crackly edge. And I like that unlike with layer cakes, you can eat a wodge of bundt – or a sliver – with your fingers. (OK, you can do that with layer cakes too, but it’s a messier a challenge.) And don’t you love dribbling icing over a bundt cake and letting it run down its crannies?
You have a choice of flavour profiles here: a shake of cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg or the like makes a warm spiced cake, reminiscent of apple pie. Or let the flavour of pear and vanilla stand out by leaving out the spice and upping the vanilla to a tablespoon. Or turn it into a ginger-pear cake by whisking a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger into the oil-egg mixture, and perhaps a teaspoon of peppery powdered ginger into the dry ingredients. It’s three three three cakes in one.
I know we just had browned butter frosting, but it seemed like a perfect pairing here. I had been thinking about Gina’s comment about the last browned butter frosted cake and how hers came out firmer, which I’ve had happen when making this sort of icing – it can turn into something that more closely resembles fudge. Cruising around looking at pear cakes, I came across Lori’s pear loaf cakes with – browned butter icing! And I loved her back and forth drizzling style – it’s like cake abstract art. This particular dribble tastes intensely of browned butter and sugar, and after a soft stint solidifies into essentially smooth, creamy fudge. Try not to pick it all off the top of the cake – it won’t look as pretty.
But it will still taste great.
Spiced Pear Bundt Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp. warm spices like apple or pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves (optional)
1/2 tsp. salt
3 very ripe pears
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, spices and salt; set aside. Grate two of the pears (don’t bother peeling them) onto a plate; core and dice the third.
In a large bowl, whisk the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla; add the dry ingredients and the grated pears (along with any juices that have collected on the plate) and stir until the batter is almost combined. Add the chunked pear and the chopped nuts, if you’re using them, and stir just until blended.
Scrape the batter into a well greased bundt pan and bake for an hour, or until deep golden, domed on top and springy to the touch. Let cool for a few minutes before inverting onto a plate or wire rack to cool. Drizzle with browned butter dribble, if you like.
Makes 1 cake; serves 16.
Browned Butter Dribble: melt 1/4 cup butter in a small saucepan; continue cooking it, swirling the pan occasionally, until it turns nutty and golden. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar and 1 Tbsp. hot water, plus a little more if you need it to achieve a drizzling consistency.