Sunday, October 19, 2008

What I'm Doing with Free Pears These Days

I had a request for the recipe for the pear upside down cake I made a little while ago. We've been doing well with the gleaning during pear season, so I thought I'd share the few things we've done with them. I'm not making any claims that this is particularly healthy fare, nor that these are good strategies for long term storage, but this is what we've done with them.

For the pear upside down cake I began with this recipe, but modified in several ways. Here's what I ended up doing:

Pear Upside Down Cake

For the topping
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups pears, sliced in 1/2" thick pieces
1/3 cup orange juice

For the cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 Tbsp cake flour
6 Tbsp of hazelnut meal (you can make your own from about 2 oz of whole hazelnuts)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 oz. whipped cream cheese
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Start by making the topping. Put the brown sugar and butter together in a saucepan and melt over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly, this should take several minutes. While the mixture melts, peel the pears and slice them into a bowl with the orange juice, tossing them occasionally so that they don't discolor too badly. Pour the mixture into a 10" cast iron skillet, or a nonstick cake pan with 2 inch high sides. Arrange pear slices very tightly in a single layer on top of the caramel mixture. Pour the orange juice over the slices.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Whisk the flours, hazelnut meal, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar, butter, and cream cheese together until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients in 2 additions, beating well after each addition. Pour cake batter over caramel and pear slices in pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Turn cake out onto a platter with a rim, as the juices will run. Serve warm or at room temperature. We made two cakes simultaneously, and froze one. Nothing beats a warm upside down cake, but the texture of the frozen one wasn't much different from the fresh one on its second day.

Stewed Pears in Sour Milk Blini

I had also frozen a few dozen blini made from some salvaged sour milk a while back. I fished these out of the freezer and used them for some impromptu breakfast decadence. Here are some recipes.

Sour Milk Blini

1 cup soured milk or buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
oil for cooking

With a whisk, combine all ingredients in mixing bowl until well blended. The mixture should be considerably thinner than standard American pancake batter. Heat a small amount of oil in a well seasoned skillet over medium heat and pour in 1/4 cup of the batter. Tilt the pan slightly to spread out the batter. It should spread to a diameter of about 5" and form a blin no more than 1/4" thick. Adjust the batter with flour or a little water to reach the desired results. Cook each blin until the top side loses its wet sheen, then flip it over for just a few seconds to cook the top side. Remove to a platter and hold until serving or until cooled. The blini can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen.

Stewed Pears

Put 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup water in a small sauce pan. Peel and slice your pears into the liquid. If you pears are not very sweet, add a small amount of sugar if desired. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover the pan, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Let the fruit stew for 3-5 minutes, depending on the texture of the fruit.

Maple Cream Cheese Sauce
I stole this recipe straight out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He meant for it to accompany pumpkin waffles, but it's good with plenty of other things too.

Mix equal parts by volume of maple syrup and cream cheese until a thin sauce is formed. Beware: this is a diabetic coma in the making. You don't need very much of it, though if you're like me, you'll want much more than is healthy.

To assemble the Stewed Pear Blini, just combine all the above ingredients. Lay the blini out, and arrange the stewed pears in a line running through the center of each blin. Fold up the sides of the blin, one over the other, and flip it over so the seam is down on the plate. Top each blin with a little of the sauce. If you've frozen your blini, thaw them in a very low oven (200F) while you prep the pears and sauce.

Finally, when we couldn't stand looking at the pears any longer and didn't have the time or energy to prep them for the dehydrator, we simply juiced them along with a hunk of ginger and enjoyed the pulpy results mixed with homemade sparkling water. (My husband has a CO2 tank leftover from his more active homebrewing era.)

Phelan has also had a few wonderful posts recently on what to do with pears, including ideas for more long term storage, and healthier recipes than I've offered here.

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