A blog of hopeful, inspired living: cooking & baking & growing & harvesting & preserving & gleaning & eating & sharing food... while bringing positive change to my kitchen and our food system.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pecan Pear Custard Cake

I love seeing my friend S's name come up on my phone. It usually means that she has some interesting, delicious thing to share with me: an extra box of vegetables from her CSA, persimmons, sourdough starter, kefir, apples, plums, pears. In addition to her personal interest in urban homesteading, S volunteers for a fabulous organization, Village Harvest, that harvests fruit that would otherwise go uneaten, and distributes it to organizations that provide food to those who need it.  Since they were founded in 2001, Village Harvest has harvested and distributed over a million pounds of fresh fruit!

not-so-pretty pears are perfect under their spotted skins
S brings home the 'culls' -- all the fruit that is damaged or overripe or otherwise can't be distributed -- and dehydrates it, cans it, turns it into jam and desserts, and shares it with friends. That's how I ended up with 50 pounds of not-so-pretty Barlett pears the other week. The pears have spots due to the cold, rainy, foggy weather right as the pears were starting to develop. It's cosmetic: they taste delicious. Most of the fruit went to programs at work, where it was turned into delicious pear chips and pear puree. I took home a bag full and turned it into this yummy, simple, custard-y cake. It was perfect warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and equally so heated up for breakfast with a cup of tea.

It's astonishing to me how much fruit goes unused on trees around the Bay Area: I started my blog almost a year ago after harvesting from the persimmon tree in an abandoned lot that I drove by day after day on my way to work. We must have harvested a good 75 pounds of persimmons. When I first moved to the Bay Area I lived in San Francisco, where I marveled over the fruiting plum trees that served as ornamentals up and down my street, the fruit piling in the gutters. I'm thankful for organizations like Village Harvest.

This cake is more like a quick bread, but it is better baked in a shallow pan. It has a custard-like texture from the moist ingredients and extra egg yolk, keeps well in the fridge and heats up well later in the toaster oven, if you want to enjoy it warm. The sliced pears on top are tasty and beautiful, but not necessary (but hey, why not -- don't the look pretty?!).  Bartlett pears are best when they start to soften. That's when I used these. It's easy to transform them into a puree when they are soft: remove the skins, cut out the center and toss them in a blender or food processor. If they are really ripe, you won't need to add any water. You can use this instead of applesauce in recipes, or eat it alone -- with or without the addition of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. I like to freeze the puree in Ziploc bags for easy stacking:

Pecan Pear Custard Cake
makes one 9" x 13" cake
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup yogurt (I prefer Greek yogurt because of it's thickness)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour (unbleached or a mixture of 2 cups unbleached and 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1/4 cup wheat bran (optional -- or just use more whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup pear puree
1/2 cup chopped pecans, plus a handful of nice halves for the top of the cake
1 pear sliced thinly, for top of cake

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Oil a 9" x 13" pan
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolk, buttermilk, yogurt, pear puree and vanilla extract.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl.
4. Whisk the sugars into the flour mixture.
5. Cut the butter into the flour/sugar mixture until the butter is the size of small peas.
6. Mix the liquid into the dry ingredients, without over mixing. Add the pecans at the end, with as few strokes as possible.

7. Pour into the prepared 9" x 13" pan.
8. Place the thinly sliced pear and pecan pieces on top of the cake, in whatever decorative pattern you want.
9. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes. The batter may still be moist: this cake will be more dense and moist than a regular 'cake'.
10. Cool on a rack before slicing and serving, warm or at room temperature, or even cold from the fridge.
11. Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat in the oven or toaster oven.