Happy New Year everyone! 2013 was a great year for Life By Appointment and we're looking forward to all of the new adventures and experiences 2014 will bring. With our work schedules, neither of us were able to ring in the new year with much pizazz. Instead, Sarah had a quiet evening with family and was in bed early to prepare for work the next day and Mr. J and I worked late and then enjoyed a simple dinner at home. Our celebration wasn't glamorous but in hindsight, I think it may have been my favorite New Year's Eve ever!
Over the holidays, we were generously gifted a big basket of perfectly ripe pears. The problem with perfectly ripe pears is that unless you have an army to eat them right away, they quickly become over-ripe pears. Despite Mr. J and my best efforts, we just couldn't consume the pears quickly enough to keep up with their ripening process. So what to do with a nearly full basket of very ripe pears? Bake with them of course!
I baked two treats - pear cupcakes with a honey buttercream for a work potluck and an Italian pear cake to enjoy at home. For the cupcakes, I cut down the sugar, since the pears added some sweetness and I wanted the pear flavor to stand out a bit more. I also drizzled in a couple tablespoons of the honey instead of using the full half cup. I think using full portions of the sugar and honey would be fine but I personally prefer my desserts a little less sweet. The batter for the Italian pear cake was so light and fluffy. The pear chunks plopped right in and the batter billowed around them like a soft pillow. The result was a light airy cake with moist pear chunks, even despite my over-baking. I'll definitely be making this again and when I do, I'll have to remember to take out the cake a few minutes earlier.
(adapted from here and here)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups finely diced pears (from 2 large ripe pears)
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. On low speed, mix in the finely diced pears. Add the flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.
Fill the lined cups about 2/3 full and bake until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
For the honey buttercream, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not immersed in the water but just hovering above it. Whisk frequently under the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Remove from heat and beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter in small additions, waiting for it to incorporate each time before adding more. Stir in the vanilla extract and drizzle in honey until just incorporated. Transfer to pastry bag and pipe swirls on cooled cupcakes.
Italian Pear Cake
(original recipe here)
2 very ripe pears, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 cup corn starch
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, corn starch, salt, and baking powder together. Add in the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add in the butter until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into a lightly greased 9 inch Springform pan. Gently push in pear chunks into the batter. Bake for 25 minutes until toothpick comes out clean (no more than 30 minutes). Allow to cool then sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.
Enjoy with a cup of coffee. Try to limit yourself to just one slice at a time.