26 January 2009

Healthy Desserts Week: Italian Pear Cake

After a brief break, healthy desserts week is back for two last posts.

I decided to get the new year off to the right start (it seems a bit old already, doesn't it?) by making this pear cake for dessert on New Year's Eve. I was flipping through The Essentials of Italian Cooking when I came across this recipe, in the book called "A Farmwife's Pear Tart" and was intrigued (or as intrigued as I could be as I read out the name to Zach and he started laughing). More pear than batter and the batter itself had no fat or leavening agents. It sounded a bit strange, but as Marcella Hazan has never led me wrong in the past, I thought I'd give it a try.

I chose fairly firm Anjou pears, according to Marcella's instructions, peeled them, cut them in half and used a teaspoon to scoop out the core. Then I sliced each half into about four thick slices lengthwise. I mixed all the other ingredients into a rather thick batter (with the addition of some vanilla extract though I would have preferred to use almond had I had any- pear and almond make such a nice combination) and sent in the pears, giving everything a few good turns with the spatula. I poured, well pour isn't really the right word, since at this point the cake was more like pear slices thinly covered in batter; in any case, I got the batter into the pan and attempted to even it out as best I could, then dotted on about 2 teaspoons of butter (which the recipe said was option but I didn't want my guests to be in diet dessert purgatory) and baked till puffy and lightly golden.

The cake is moist and dense, yet as it's still mostly pear, wasn't too heavy. The fruit hadn't become too soft and still had a pleasant texture which the soft cake contrasted well with. Everyone like it, so this will definitley be on the menu again. Yes, it does have a fairly high amount of sugar, but I think that is to keep the cake moist in the absence of fat. Next time I will probably try cutting down on the sugar and seeing if it still works out.

Italian Pear Cake
Adapted from The Essentials of Italian Cooking
Serves 8

Note: Because of the high moisture content this cake needs to be stored in the fridge if you are not eating it right away.

2 eggs
1/4 C (20ml) milk
1 C (200g) sugar
1 t. (5ml) almond or vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1.5 C (180g) all-purpose flour
2 lb. (900g) firm, but not rock hard, winter pears
2 t butter (optional)

- Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour a 9in round pie plate or cake pan.

- Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, extract and salt. Wisk in flour. Set aside.

- Peel pears. Cut in half and scoop out the core. Cut into thick 1/2 (1cm) slices lengthwise. Stir sliced pears into batter.

- Pour pear mixture into the pan and spread out as evenly as you can. Dot with the butter (if using-- it will help the top brown) and bake for about 50 minutes or until puffy and lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Cori said...

In my desperate online search to find an Italian pear dessert recipe, yours popped up like a beam from a light house during a dark stormy night at sea. I can't wait to try this out, but I must admit I'm a little puzzled by your conversion of cups to milliliters and cups to grams. The conversion charts I use state that 1/4 c = 59 ml, 1 c = 230 grams and 1 1/2 c = 345 grams. Did you convert from US weights and volumes to metric like I did, or metric to US? There's quite a difference in quantities depending on which way you converted, and I hope that it still turns out well when I make it with the US conversions that you listed. Thank you so much for this recipe!


Jen said...

Hmmm... you bring up a very interesting problem Cori. I made this recipe quite a while ago and am not sure which method I used on the conversion. My current method when converting a recipe from customary to metric is to measure the ingredient in customary units, then dump it into a bowl which sits on a kitchen scale. I then record the weight of the unit, even form things like water/extracts. Your conversion charts would probably work for some ingredients but not others since cups are a volume measure and grams are a weight measure so things like flour weigh less (120g per cup) than sugar (210g per cup). The recipe should work perfectly using the customary units, since that it was it was originally listed as, and I hope the metric units would work too. Next time I make it, I'll re-check the metric conversions and update the post.

Let me know how your cake turns out. This one is one of my favorites and is usually really popular when I make it.

Anonymous said...

should this recipe have leavening agents in it (baking powder)? I made it but instead of coming out light and fluffy it was quite dense. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I made this wonderful cake twice in the last week for a dinner I hosted, and a going-away party at work. It is wonderful!! I used the almond extract the first time, and it was good, except it was a littel too sweet. The second time I cut the sugar down to about 2/3 cup, and I used lemon extract instead of almond. I also added some ground ginger for just a little kick. It was a major hit. This is now a standard on in my repetoire.

Jo said...

I love it! Thanks for the healthy dessert recipe.