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Thursday, December 15, 2005

I once worked (slaved?) at a restaurant with a pastry chef who's baking made my mind swirl. She was not only hilarious, lovely, smart and kind, but this woman, this BAKER, was named (prophetically?) Baker. She earned bonus points in my world by being nice to me when I was not exactly excelling (may have had something to do with the fact that at the time, my cooking was slow as molasses on ice. That and I could never really reconcile myself to wearing those hideous checked pants) at the gig. She took me under her wing, and inspired me with her endlessly creative recipes.

This recipe is a cheap knock off of something she used to make, and while it could in no way emulate the fantasticness that she produced, it is still totally yummy and worth the effort.

I may still not be much of a baker, but I am still always willing to give it a go, and I hope you will too. The components are gingerbread cake, cranberry coulis, and cranberry-cinnamon poached pears.This is not so much about the recipe (you could poach the pears any way you like, and use any gingerbread recipe that strikes your fancy) as it is about the composition and building of flavors and textures.

The cake will have a spicy warmth to it, the pears a tart coolness, the coulis adds color and a fruity sweetness and the whole thing together equals heaven on a plate. While you are baking the cake, go ahead and poach the pears. Everything needs to be cool when you start to assemble anyway. A lovely addition would be some cinnamon whipped creme fraiche, but alas, I did not have any. Try it, and enjoy.

4 whole firm pears, peeled
1 cup cranberry juice
1 cup water (and more if needed)
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water

1 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water
2 cups white flour
1 cup water, boiling

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Butter and flour a 9- by 2-inch square baking pan. Line the bottom with buttered parchment paper.

Melt butter in a small pan over low heat and then set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, molasses, spices, and salt then and add the melted butter and whisk to incorporate.

In a cup dissolve baking soda in warm water and whisk into the batter.

Sift the flour over the mixed batter and whisk until combined well. Add boiling water in a slow stream, whisking, and pour batter into baking pan.

Bake gingerbread in middle of oven 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool gingerbread in pan on a rack. When cooled, turn the cake over, peel off the paper.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, combine your cranberry juice, water, sugar, orange zest and cinnamon and heat over a low flame to melt the sugar. Add your pears and place a small round (heat proof) plate directly on top of them to keep them submerged. Cook at a very low simmer for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove from the heat and cool the pears in the liquid. When cooled, remove the pears with a slotted spoon. If you are making the dessert later, store the pears in the liquid.

While the pears are poaching and the gingerbread is baking, combine your coulis ingredients (cranberries, water and sugar) in a small saucepan and simmer over a low flame for 30-45 minutes. Strain the cranberries out using a fine mesh strainer and set the liquid aside. fish out a few of the cranberries and add back to the sauce to use for garnish.

To assemble the dessert, you will first need to slice the pears in half through the stem. Remove the seeds with a melon baller or a sharp knife. Then to create the fan effect, lay the pear half down on your cutting board and slice from just below the stem down to the bottom, repeat four of five times moving across the pear. When sliced, push down slightly with your hand and it will fan out. Voila.

Next up you will need a round cutter. (or, a tuna can with both ends cut off, that has been scrubbed) Cut out four circles of cake, then slice them in half through the middle. (Equator) Brush with some of the cranberry coulis to moisten. Layer with half a poached pear fan, top with the second circle of gingerbread then dust with some powdered sugar and a few of the reserved cranberries. Make all four of your cakes, then pour the remaining coulis on four chilled dessert plates. Add the cakes and put the other half of the pear on the plates and serve.

Makes four

Oh, and those cake scraps? Keep them, gingerbread only gets better the next day. Mmmm.


Coulis. A mixture—often a fruit puree—that has been strained of tiny seeds or pieces of peel so it is perfectly smooth.

In Medieval England gingerbread meant simply "preserved ginger" and was a corruption of the Old French gingebras, derived from the Latin name of the spice, Zingebar. It was only in the fifteenth century that the term came to be applied to a kind of cake made with treacle and flavored with ginger. - Ginnys Gingerbread House.com

California produces 60% of the nation's total Bartlett pear crop

I am adding another item for the Menu for Hope. If you haven't made a donation yet, perhaps a brand new 3.5 inch Wusthof paring knife will tempt you. Just go to First Giving and make a $5 donation (or really, any amount more than that you care to) and specify in the comments section what item you would like to win. (A full list of items, minus this new addition is here). All money will go to Unicef, to help with the Kashmir region earthquake relief effort.

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