Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream

When I read about this Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream in the November issue of Gourmet magazine -- the last one they will ever print -- I couldn't wait to try it. I am considering offering it in addition to the pumpkin pies and pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving.

The batter is thick and luscious -- there are two sticks of butter in it after all -- and it is fragrant with vanilla and spices. The pears do not make the cake soggy at all. The maple frosting ties everything together. It is lightly sweet and quite yummy. I think it is the butter, the 5 eggs and the baking powder and the way you thoroughly beat the batter after adding each egg that makes the layers bake up even and near-perfect. Don't neglect to rap the pans in the counter to jar out air bubbles.

Here is a link to the recipe for Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream from the November 2009 Gourmet magazine.

And in case they ever take down, seeing as how Gourmet closed, I will print the text of the recipe after I tell you what I did differently.

I made one of my two regular buttercream frosting recipes. I didn't make the cooked version from the recipe. It sounded like a lot of bother, frankly. And if I did it incorrectly -- such as somehow "cooking" the egg white with the hot syrup (I've seen it done in candy making and it is a disgusting chunky result), I'd waste a lot of pricy ingredients like real maple syrup. So I used imitation maple flavoring in my frosting. I didn't like the idea, but I already had it in my pantry. I think it turned out just fine. My frosting recipe follows the one from Gourmet.

Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple ButtercreamGourmet | November 2009
by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez

When layered with tender, brandy-spiked pears and a fluffy maple-flavored frosting, spice cake sheds its old-fashioned modesty, becoming impressive enough for any Thanksgiving sideboard. While it will surely satisfy the cake fans at your holiday gathering, it just might tempt a few diehard pie lovers, as well.

Yield: Makes 10 to 12 servings
Active Time: 1 1/2 hr
Total Time: 2 hr

For spice cake:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs

For caramelized pears:
2 1/4 pounds Bartlett or Bosc pears (about 5)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons brandy

For maple buttercream:
4 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup maple sugar
1 1/3 cups pure maple syrup (preferably Grade A dark amber)
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened

Equipment: 3 (8-inch) round cake pans (2 inches deep; see cooks’ note, below); a candy thermometer

Make spice cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour cake pans.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Stir together milk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk mixture (begin and end with flour mixture) and mixing until just combined.

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops, then rap pans once or twice on counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until pale golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto racks. Reinvert and cool completely.

Caramelize pears:

Peel and core pears, then coarsely chop.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté pears, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in sugar, lemon juice, and brandy and cook over high heat, stirring, until juices are deep golden and pears are tender, about 5 minutes.

Make buttercream:

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using cleaned beaters at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add maple sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

Boil maple syrup in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, undisturbed, until it reaches soft-ball stage (238 to 242°F on candy thermometer), 3 to 7 minutes.

With mixer at low speed, immediately pour hot syrup in a slow stream down side of bowl into egg whites, then beat at high speed, scraping down side of bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. (It's important that meringue be fully cooled before proceeding.)

At medium speed, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. (If buttercream looks soupy after some butter is added, meringue is too warm: Chill bottom of bowl in an ice bath for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.) Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added but will come together before beating is finished.)

Assemble cake:

Put 1 cake layer on a serving plate, then spread with 3/4 cup buttercream and top with half of pear filling. Top with second cake layer, 3/4 cup buttercream, and remaining pear filling. Top with remaining cake layer, then frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream.

Cooks' notes:
•Cake can be made in 3 (9-inch) cake pans (cake layers will take a few minutes less to bake).
•Cake layers can be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
•Buttercream can be made 1 week ahead and chilled or 1 month ahead and frozen. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave), then beat with an electric mixer before using.
•The egg whites in this recipe will not be fully cooked. You can substitute reconstituted powdered egg whites.

Cynthia's Maple Buttercream

I adapted a recipe from Ann Byrn "The Cake Mix Doctor".

1 stick butter, softened
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
3-4 tablespoons of milk

Put the butter in a mixing bowl and mix it on medium-high until fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar, vanilla, maple flavoring and 1-2 tablespoons of milk. Beat again until the sugar is incorporated, about 5 minutes. Add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time till you get a spreadable consistency.

Note: When I make the pear cake again, I think I will make a recipe and a half of frosting. I was spreading it pretty thin trying to cover the sides and top of the cake.

Other tips I would give, in case some readers are new to baking:
1. Measure carefully. Baking is exact.
2. Don't substitute. Use real ingredients: butter, whole milk, etc.
3. Make sure your spices are fresh.

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