Pear Bundt Cake

Spiced Pear Bundt Cake by Ayala Moriel
Spiced Pear Bundt Cake, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
After a long day of bad news from Israel and Gaza, I just had to do something relaxing and positive. I baked a bundt cake. Flipped it over on the cake stand. Buried my nose in the midst and indulged in the comforting steam of baked butter, honey, spice and caramelized Flemmish pears. I wish I could send some of this comfort to all my family and friends in the war zones.

Pears are a relatively new obsession of mine - poached, or in a brie sandwich, or better yet - in a frangipane tart - there is something utterly luxurious and elegant about this rather humble-looking, delicately flavoured and subtley textured fruit.

This cake is another way to enjoy pears, especially if you happen to be greedy like me when they are in season, and buy a few extra ones that got a little too soft for poaching or sandwiches... It requires making a home made caramelized pear sauce or puree - which sounds complicated, but is really a breeze. The original Martha Stewart recipe that this one is based on instructs you to peel the pears. But I felt that this took away a bit of the texture. So my recipe is my own little twist on the theme, and in my opinion feels more pear-y, which is what I'm after. You will need at least 5 pears for this recipe (6 pears if you are decorating it with the pear chips).

A little note about the bundt mold: Yes, you will need it. I'm not a fan of having a special piece of equipment for every type of cake under the sun. However, there are some exceptions (i.e.: Madeleine molds, heart cookie cutters...). But yes, even though I waited about a million years to get my bundt mold - it's totally worth the investment. It has opened up a whole world of recipes for simple yet elegant and impressive cakes right before my eyes. And now also yours. Do it!

For the Caramelized Pear Sauce:
1/3 cup evaporated cane sugar
5 pears, cored and cut into medium chunks (peeling optional)

- Spread the sugar evenly in a wide sauce pan and cook on medium heat until the sugar on the edges starts to brown.
- Stir just until all the sugar has melted, and immediately add the pears.
- Cook the pears while stirring occasionally. 
- Once the pears are soft, use a potato-masher to make a chunky pear puree.

For the batter:1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened in room temperature
1 cup evaporated cane sugar
4 large eggs, in room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tbs freshly grated ginger root 
2 cups spelt flour
1 cup (100gr) ground blanched almonds (aka almond meal)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

- Preheat the oven to 350F (180c).
- Sift together dry ingredients (flour, almond meal, spices, salt, baking powder and soda).
- In a large bowl, beat together the butter, honey and sugar in medium speed, until fully creamed and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time and continue beating for .
- Add the vanilla extract and continue beating for a few more seconds.
- Reduce to low speed and add about third of the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.
- Add the pear sauce and beat shortly.
- Add another third of the flour, and continue beating just until combined.
- Add the buttermilk and continue beating just for a few more seconds.
- Add the remaining flour, and beat briefly - just until the last bit of flour is incorporated into the batter.
- Butter a bundt pan and dust with more spelt flour. Tap out excess flour.
- Carefully pour the batter into the pan and spread until even.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake ring comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes. While the cake is still warm, invert it on a cake tray or case, and allow to cool completely before decorating it with powdered sugar or the suggested decoration below. Only once cooled, you may cover it with a lid or a glass dome.

To decorate the cake:

A simple decoration for this cake would be a little dusting with powdered sugar, which is elegant and pretty and perfect if you're just making the cake for yourself and your family or casual entertaining. If this is for a special occasion - this cake can make an entrance that is in my humble opinion more impressive than some of the most sophisticated layer cakes I've ever made. And still quite simple to carry out.
For that, you will need to create a cream cheese icing, and candied pear chips (recipe below). The white icing looks regal and sensual set against the dark, caramel-coloured spiced cake. Add to that homemade candied pear chips - and you're up for a memorable fall cake that is reminiscent of fallen leaves on fresh snow. Delightful for both your eyes and taste buds!

For the Cream Cheese Glaze:
4oz cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbs milk, more if needed
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract, or the "seeds" scraped from half a vanilla pod. 
- Whisk the ingredients together with a wire whisk or with an electric mixer.
- Drizzle all over the cake once it is cooled, one tablespoonful at a time on the top - it will run down the streams created by the bundt mold and is sure to be pretty!

For the Candied Pear Chips:
1 unripe pear
1 cup granulated or evaporated cane sugar1 lemon, cut into half
1 cup Water

- Preheat the oven to 200F (95c). Line a baking sheet with parchament paper or Silpat.
- Shave the pear lengthwise using a mandolin (I tried it without a mandolin and it does not work - so here's another kitchen investment I had to make...). There is no need to remove the core of the seeds - they will add to the visual appeal of the pear chips, and during the baking process they will become easily edible.
- Rub half a lemon on each pear slice (to prevent it from browning).
- In a saucepan, combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved, and keep it simmering.
- Put the pear slices in the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the pot with a  slotted spoon, and drain on a sieve. 
- Spread the drained slices on the lined pan. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes - until crisp but not brown.
- Once cooled, place the slices atop the glazed bundt cake.  Doesn't it look spectacular?

Autumn Fruit Open Sandwiches

Autumn Fruit Sandwiches by Ayala Moriel
Autumn Fruit Sandwiches, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Fruit and cheese are a classic combination, though may seem unusual when you try it the first time.

Autumn harvest fruit make particularly good pairings: concord grapes, a seasonal symbol, go wonderfully well with the sharp decay of blue cheeses. Ripe crisp apples balance the earthy sharpness of aged cheddar, or even better - the smokiness of applewood smoked variety, which invoked burning leaves and wood-stoves. And of course you can't beat the classic ripe pear with Brie cheese, renown for its fresh mushroom-like nuances and elegant, neat round mushroom-like look.

For even more memorable versions of the sandwiches, here is my personal twist. Freshly baked sourdough bread are the best choice for open sandwiches; while whole wheat sliced tea-sandwich bread type that's pre-sliced with precision at the bakery for tea-time sandwiches. Crusts can be removed from (closed) tea sandwiches - or not - depending on how fancy you want this to be. I personally like the crusts more than any other part of the bread! The concept behind removing them is to make a finger-food snack that won't require cuttlery or messing up your fancy nobelty clothes (these were the only people who could afford an afternoon tea; which takes about 4 hours to prepare if you have servants; or more like 4 days if you don't). The crusts on most standard (aka non-sourdough) breads is rather thin and easy to bite through anyway... So I would save the extra bread bites if this is a lunch snack; and remove them only if you are serving a traditional afternoon tea menu.

Ingredients (for a small crowd of 12 - use less if it's for fewer people, and reserve the remaining ingredients for the next day).

FRUIT: 1 ripe yet firm pear (Bartlett or Spadonna are the best for this purpose; Bosc have too rough of a skin). Cut into half, core, removed the stem and slice into about 4mm thick slices.
BREAD*: These go best on a freshly baked baguette bread. I also like it on the cranberry semolina bread by A Bread Affair. You will need one loaf if you are feeding small crowd of 12 people or so.
CHEESE: 200gr Brie of a creamier nature, i.e.: St. Andre's. Slice as thin as you can without making a mess. Cheese knives are invented for these soft semi-gooey consistencies.
SPREAD: Cassis Dijon grainy mustard

50gr roasted whole hazelnuts, skins removed

- On each slice of bread, spread a thin layer of cassis mustard.
- Top with thin slices of brie cheese, just enough to cover the bread slice.
- Top with pear slices, neatly arranged.
- Sprinkle hazelnuts on top. If they keep rolling off you can gently press them onto the pear and cheese slices, which are rather yielding...

Suggested tea pairing: Cassis Noir from Soirette.

Ingredients (for a small crowd of 12 - use less if it's for fewer people, and reserve the remaining ingredients for the next day).
BREAD*: 1 loaf whole wheat bread (regular bakery variety, or wholewheat sourdough) sliced
SPREAD: 15gr or about 1 TBS Butter (at room temperature) or Mayonnaise
FRUIT: 1 Apple of choice - The sweeter Honey Crisp, Gala or Pink lady are a nice sweet contrast to the smoked cheeses; while the tanginess of Mutsu or Granny Smith balances the nutty earthiness of aged cheddar. Remember - they all make wonderful sandwiches as long as they are fresh and crisp! Core, quarter and cut the apples to about 2mm slices
CHEESE: 200gr Aged Cheddar cheese, or Applewood Smoked Cheddar Cheese - thinly sliced (about 2mm)
EMBELLISHMENT: 50gr raw walnuts, coarsely chopped

- Spread each slice with butter or mayonnaise
- Top with cheese slices
- Arrange apple slices
- Sprinkle with chopped walnuts
- If using regular bread, top with the other buttered slice, and cut into triangles. If using a wholewheat sourdough bread - leave open.

Suggested tea pairing: Cask-aged Ghorka Estate black tea from O5 Rare Tea Bar.

Bon appetit!

* If you are on a gluten-free diet, or simply want to cut down on bread - these two recipe go swimmingly well with rice cakes. The thinner ones are better, and are delicious as open sandwiches. I love them so much and eat them even more often than the "real" sandwiches.

Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart

Pear & Almond Frangipane Tart
Frangipane tart was in my dreams for longer than I can remember... Maybe it's the name, which reminds me of a beautifully scented tropical flower that brings fond memories of summers in Tel Aviv. But most likely, it's the seductive, velvety appearance of the dessert's middle layer, partly concealing the fruit in the most seductive of ways...

When passing by a bakery in Paris (May 2009) that had a similar apple tart in their window, I promised myself to get a slice when I return to the apartment where I was staying... By than it was closed, of course. And the next mornings, I passed by it too early in the day before it opened. So there was my chance to have a frangipane tart Parisienne... It's actually a specialty of the region of Bretton, where it is traditionally baked with apples. The variations on this theme are countless - usually almonds, but sometimes other nuts (pistachio, hazelnut...) and most commonly the fruit is from the rosacea family (apple, pear, apricot, plum, cherry...).

Fortunately, I found a great recipe with a crust that is super easy to make - Dessert First' adaptation of Dorie Greenspan's recipe. So, I got myself a tart pan with a removable bottom for the first time in my whole life. From this point, there was no return. Unlike many other frangipane tarts, you don't need to roll out the dough (which is the single most intimidating part about tarts: the dough is always full of butter, which must remain cold and not be over worked for the pastry to turn out flaky and light). It's difficult to roll cold butter (try it!) and I find it quite frustrating. Besides, you end up with a counter covered in sticky dough and flour...

The other think I love about this recipe is its efficiency in using up all the materials. The dough requires one yolk. There is nothing I like less than wasting half eggs after working so hard to separate them... So I was excited to discover that in this recipe, since the frangipane part (aka the almond cream) requires one whole egg and one egg white, the extra egg white remaining from the crust will not go to waste. Phew...

Begin by poaching the pears (previous recipe). 

The Making of Frangipane Tart
Pâte Sablée

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar

9 tablespoon very cold salted butter*, cut into small pieces

1 egg yolk

Mix the flour and powdered sugar.
Cut the butter in and blend with a manual pastry blender until tiny crumbs form.
Add the egg yolk and knead as little as possible - just until it can form a ball of dough.
Press the dough into a 9" tart pan (with a removable bottom). Excess dough will be used later to patch up the crust after the 1st round of baking...
Freeze for 30 minutes or until the almond cream is ready and you're ready to bake the tart!
When you are ready, preheat the oven to 375F. Cover the tart dough tightly with a sheet of buttered aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes, until the crust becomes dry and slightly golden.
Take out of the oven, remove the buttered aluminum foil, and let cool completely before adding the frangipane cream filling...

And while the crust is chilling in the freezer or out of the oven - make the almond cream (which is the Frangipane itself!). This is actually the easiest part of the whole thing (aside from eating the tart...). By the way, it is named after the Italian marquis Frangipani, after whom the flower is named as well (the reason for that being, that the Frangipanis worn the first scented gloves of that particular combination - containing a large amount of orris, by the way... When the flower (Plumeria alba) was found, it reminded its discoverers of that same Frangipani perfume, and named the flower after it... Frangipani in Italian means "Breadbreakers". So... If you can't find bread, eat frangipane!

(Almond Cream Filling)

6 tablespoons salted butter*, at room temperature

2/3 cup raw cane sugar

100gr ground blanched almonds (which, fortunately, is the entire bag of blanched ground almonds you get in most grocery stores).

2 teaspoons flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 large egg

1 egg white
(remaining from making the crust!)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons pure almond extract

Blend all ingredient with a mixer. Fill the partly baked crust only after its cooled down completely to room temperature. If the crust needs any patching with more dough - now is the time to do it.
Fill with the almond cream (it should be a little on the firmer side, but still easily spreadable evenly within the tart shell. Slice the poached pears into 3/8 thick slices. Place on a flat spatula and transfer 4 halves of pear in total onto the frangipane filling. Press a little so that the slices separate nicely atop the tart.

Bake the whole tart until the almond cream filling is golden and puffy. Watch your oven closely, and listen to your nose to check the tart before your timer goes off! Mine took only 30 minutes to bake, instead of the 40-45 minutes the recipe anticipated it would take. You may want to garnish it with powdered sugar, or brush with a light coloured jam (i.e.: peach or apricot) but I find either unnecessary. This tart is sheer perfection just the way it is!

Serve the frangnipane tart in room temperature (if you don't think you'll finish it within 2-3 days, store on the fridge, but you MUST bring it back to room temperature before serving. It's also delicious while still warm and fresh from the oven, which is how I enjoyed it for the first time around 9pm on September 28th... It's not really that complicated, but it does have quite a few stages and a fair amount of waiting and cooling - and since I was doing other things that day, it took me the entire day to complete this dessert. At the end of the day, I found it to be more satisfying than other layer cakes I've baked in the past (Gianduja, Tiramisu, Black Forest Cake...). Certainly a day to remember!

* A little note about the butter: most recipes for pastries and sweets call for unsalted butter. Which is really clever, except that they always add more salt in the end... If only unsalted butter was not twice as much as the salted, I'd say go for it. But since the recipe asks for salt anyway in the end, why not save the time of measuring and save a few dollars, and opt for the salted butter... That's what I keep on hand anyway for miscellaneous butter uses.

Sira des Indes

Pear, originally uploaded by Abbey Wuthrich.

The latest from Patou, Sira des Indes, signifies the hope of the return of classic perfumery in at least some of its glory. Despite the rundown of notes for Sira des Indes, which seems quite conformist and girly in an “I’ve Smelled This Fruity Floral Before” way, it is not.

Well, let me back off a little by saying that there is something familiar about it; familiar in a good way. First of all there is the familiarity of cooked fruit – primarily banana and pear. I can’t say I am noticing any berries and the bergamot is very muted as well. The cardamom, on the other hand, is there to complement the banana in a warm, seductive way, much as it does so in the dessert that inspired this perfume.

Than, there is also something classic about it. Perhaps I am reminded of the indolic jasmine of Joy, of seductively cloying narcissus as in Narcisse Noir and Vol de Nuit. There is also some champaca, and in this context it is a continuation of the banana-semolina pudding: fruity, warm, sensual and soft, with rare glimpse of magnolia peachiness. As I mentioned earlier, champaca is a very rare note to find in Western perfumery, and especially a French perfume. There is not a lot of it here (not as much as in Aftelier’s Tango or Ormonde Jayne’s Champaca), but there is enough to notice and make this stand apart.

Perhaps the familiarity and the feeling of return of classic perfumery is due to the well cushioned structure – no-nonesense base notes, creamy, rich and full-bodied of powdery yet sweet amber and musk, with sandalwood and vanilla in quantities that won’t embarrass Guerlain’s Samsara. The final drydown, by the way, is very similar on my skin to a cross between Samsara and Shalimar.

Meped, originally uploaded by Farl.

Like most “Orientals” made by Westerners, Sira des Indes brings a hint of the flavours to us in the West rather than abduct us on the Orient Express to the source (only very few “Western” perfumes do it in my opinion, such as some of Serge Lutens and Montale’s). Nevertheless, it’s a fresh, reviving scent that gestures to the past, winks at the Orient, and looks forward with a promise of dignity.

Top notes: Bergamot, Banana, Pear, Pink Berries, Cardamom
Heart notes: Red Champaca, Jasmine, Narcissus, Ylang-ylang
Base notes: Musk, Amber, Vanilla, Sandalwood.

If you are interested in reading other reviews of the same fragrance, visit:
Bois de Jasmine
Now Smell This
Victoria's Own

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