Friday, January 15, 2010

Semi-Old-Fashioned Asian Pear Star Anise Cake

I looked in the fridge the other day and realized that I have a ridiculous number of apples and pears in there - far more than Alex and I could or would eat in the next few weeks.  So the obvious solution was to try to make with some of them.  The honeycrisp apples I will eat on their own, so there was no need to bake those.  Aside from them I had red Anjou pears, green Bartlett pears, Asian pears, and Granny Smith apples.  The obvious choice was to make an apple pie or apple crisp, but for some reason Alex doesn't like either of those.  Plus I have a ton more pears than apples, so why not use pears instead.  I started looking around and stumbled upon Ming Tsai's Cranberry-Asian Pear Star Anise Cake, which looked  really interesting, but far too complicated.  Then I saw Cele's Old-Fashioned Pear Cake recipe on 101 Cookbooks, which looked very simple but perhaps wasn't as interesting.  So I decided to come up with something that used similar flavors as Ming Tsai's recipe, but Cele's batter.  Sounds easy enough, right?  I am going to call my creation my Semi-Old-Fashioned Asian Pear Star Anise Cake as a nod to the two recipes where I found my inspiration.

There is something glorious about the smell of baked goods with unusual spices like star anise, cardamom and five spice in the batter.  While the aroma of baked goods is always wonderful, there is something spicier and more luscious about the smell of cakes in the oven with a healthy dose of star anise in them.  It kind of reminds me of the smell of apple cider versus mulled wine simmering on the stove.  Both smell wonderful but the extra kick of the allspice and other mulling spices in the wine just take it up a notch.

One of my favorite things about this cake is the light and clean flavor of the Asian pears, combined with the flavor of the star anise.  Also, the cake is wonderfully light and crumbly.  I do love a moist cake, but the texture of this cake is almost scone like - lighter and fluffier than your average cake.  It makes for a nice departure from some of the heavier cakes I have tried recently, particularly when served with some Haagen Dazs Five Ginger Ice Cream.  Also, since this cake is only lightly sweetened and the texture is scone-like, it would make a delicious breakfast with a nice steaming mug of tea.  Yes tea, not coffee.  I might be one of the few people left on Earth who don't drink coffee.  But I suppose the cake would make an equally lovely breakfast with a cup of coffee, if I were so inclined.

Speaking of ice cream, I discovered that making quenelles is WAY harder than the people on Top Chef make it look.  Alex and I were shooting ice cream all over the kitchen.  So pardon our lame presentation - we tried! 

Recipe after the jump!

Semi-Old-Fashioned Asian Pear Star Anise Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground star anise
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
1 Asian pear, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 Asian pear, peeled, cored, and diced into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by greasing it with butter and flour.  Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, spices, salt, and baking powder) in a small bowl.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until creamy and light yellow in color.  Add eggs and beat until well-combined.  Fold in dry ingredients and diced pears.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.  Arrange Asian pear slices in an overlapping layer on top of batter.

Bake until top is nice and golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.  Allow cake to cool 10-15 minutes before removing from pan.  Serve with ginger gelato or ice cream (or vanilla if you can't find ginger).

**In the spirit of full-disclosure, I have included both of the recipes I took inspiration from below.  Enjoy!

Cranberry-Asian Pear Star Anise Cake 
Ming Tsai

1 cup sugar
8 ounces unsalted butter
zest of 1 orange
4 extra large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cranberry topping:
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground star anise*
zest of 1 orange
1 Asian pear, peeled, very thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)
For prepping pan:
2 tablespoons sugar
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
round of parchment

Preheat oven to 325 degrees convection or 350 standard. Prepare a 10-inch cake pan by greasing, lining with parchment round, greasing and flouring and coating with 2 tablespoons sugar. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together sugar, butter and orange zest. Add eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate before adding the next, and scraping continually. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and kosher salt. Add flour gradually and mix until just combined. Meanwhile, in a saucepot over medium-high heat, combine cranberries, vanilla, sugar, ground star anise and orange zest and cook until sugar has dissolved and sauce comes together, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange Asian pear slices in an overlapping layer on bottom of pan. Spoon cranberry sauce evenly over Asian pears. Spread cake batter evenly over cranberries.

Bake in center of oven until top springs back when touched with fingertip, about 30-40 minutes convection or 40-50 minutes standard oven. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate. Serve with ice cream.

*To make ground star anise, toast whole star anise in a dry pan until fragrant. Let cool and grind to a powder in a spice grinder. Sift ground star anise and use the finely ground product to in the recipe.

Cele's Old-Fashioned Pear Cake
101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons melted
All-purpose flour for dusting
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
6 firm but ripe small pears such as Seckel, cored and cut lengthwise into quarters
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Brush a 9-inch round springform pan with the 2 tablespoons melted butter, and dust the pan with a thin, even layer of flour, tapping out the excess. Set aside.  Whisk together the whole-wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat together the 1/2 cup butter and the sugar on high speed until pale, light, and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and neatly arrange the peat quarters on top, skin side up.

Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

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