December 7, 2010

Sweet Return

You deserve a cake.  For sticking around, for checking this little space while I was away, you most certainly deserve a cake.  It's not a fancy towering cake or a show-off, just a homey square cake with a little frosting that's been pushed around to cover the top, but I think it's the proper sentiment.  We're not having a celebration here, just saying thank you.

This pear spice cake will fill your kitchen with the warming scent of cinnamon and spice while it bakes and does its magic in the oven.  And should you choose to make the pear sauce yourself - which I highly recommend - you can mingle for a bit with the sweet smell of pears as they simmer away on your stove top.  Not that I make a habit of questioning such beloved magazines as Gourmet who routinely turn[ed] out fantastic recipes, but I think replacing the applesauce with pears here was a total win.  For one, pear seems less expected than apple.  It doesn't have to be fussy, however we're making a cake here, not applesauce quick bread so I'd rather not recreate too similar of a product.  Also, go make the pear sauce yourself for this recipe and tell me you don't feel all industrious.

You'll be proud to plunk this down in front of dinner guests and equally happy to just have it with a cup of tea.  I'm sorry I can't hand deliver each of you a piece, because I really would like to, but I think you'll be happier to have your own. 

Pear Spice Cake
Adapted from and Smitten Kitchen

You really should make the pear sauce yourself.  Aside from it taking 30 minutes to simmer on the stove it couldn't be more simple or quick.  The brilliant addition of balsamic vinegar is undetectable in the end, perhaps just giving the sauce a fuller, rounder flavor profile.  I should also note that I made this cake with Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese (accident!) and it worked just fine, I mean who needs the extra fat in their cakes anyway! 

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pear sauce (recipe below)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pear Sauce
1 pound of pears
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water

Peel, quarter, core and de-stem pears.  Place in a medium saucepan with the balsamic and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer; cook with the lid on for 30 minutes, or until the pears are very tender. Let cool in their cooking liquid.  Puree everything in a food processor or blender to desired consistency.  This should make about 1 1/2 cups.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter an 8x8 square baking pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in pear sauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated.  Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.

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