Friday, 1 October 2010

October, with cake

Dear Friends,

I've left you out of so much!

First, there was the roast chicken dinner with Eva. On my own, I've yet to venture into whole chicken territory. I prefer pieces, dabbed with butter and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper. Eva, however, can roast a lovely bird. A few weeks ago she tackled two chickens, and - despite the heat wave rolling past us outside, dipping in through the open kitchen windows to dampen our foreheads and singe the ends of our hair - with an enviable, unhurried bravado she tended them till crispy and perfectly bronzed.

Then, one Sunday morning, John made us Swedish cinnamon buns. A simple dough, spiked generously with cardamom and then layered with cinnamon and sugar, these little lovelies baked quickly in the oven, caramelizing nicely around the edges and pairing perfectly with Laila's chai. I could understand why, during the Swedish winters, children and adults alike tuck these buns into their pockets for snacking throughout the day, as something that offers a little bit of solace and comfort against the white and frozen backdrop of daily life.

Then, there was the last of the nettle pesto, blended with sriracha and garlic, wrapped around buccatini pasta, served with thinly sliced tomatoes, roasted long and slow till they took on a tangy, sweet chew. The wild flavor of the nettles and the spice of the chili brought this pesto far from the traditional and comparatively tempered Italian version, creating a lovely staple that only required tracking down a large (and cheap) bag of nettles at the farmer's market.

But somehow, I knew I was waiting for something. Friends, I was waiting for this cake.


Each of those words make my heart patter. And when I found them together, in a cake, something rung in the air that must have been the same bell heard when the first person put bacon and eggs together on a plate, or the Beatles together on a stage, or yeast and hops together in a bucket.

It was easy too: pears that had been resting on the counter for a few days, peeled and sliced (rather haphazardly), a bit of butter, melted while putting the kettle on for some afternoon tea, some flour, sugar, and other basics...and then, just like that, the cake emerged.

Some of the pears were ripe and syrupy, some, still firm and green. The heat of the oven acted as a great equalizer, tempering the sweet and the tang to soft and yielding. The cake had tucked itself gently around the contours of the fruit, staying moist and almost creamy in the center, while crisping into an elegant brown crust around the edges. No special spices or flashes were necessary. The baked pears and toasty notes of the slightly browned butter lent all that was needed for a perfect transition into autumn desserts.

Granted, it wasn't much to look at. The pale fruit peeked through the brown dappled dough in a rather rustic way, and nothing about it begged sophistication or raised chins. But there was no need: four of us devoured the cake still hot from the oven, only slightly noticing our burned tongues before the cake was gone. The dessert set our weary, summer-yearning souls right as we watched the sun set significantly earlier than it had the week before. Butter pear cake beckoned the fall with an unexpectedly warm embrace.

Butter Pear Cake

1 stick butter
4 small pears
150 grams white sugar
2 eggs
70 grams flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

1) Melt the butter, then set aside to cool. (I melted mine on the stove and almost forgot about it, so it slightly browned. This, in my opinion, was a plus.)

2) Peel the pears, and slice. Grease an 8 inch round pan, and arrange the pears on the bottom. (I prefer mine cut into irregular pieces, mostly on the thin side and haphazardly placed.

3) Mix the sugar with the eggs. Add the flour and the baking soda, then add the butter. Blob the dough over the fruit, as evenly as possible.

4) Bake 45 to 50 minutes.


  1. delightful read, worth waiting for tess-- and I realize how much i miss your posts when i read one like that! Love your way with words and the funny comparisons (bacon, beatles, beer)!
    Whose kitchen is that in the first two photos?

  2. thanks barbara?

    The first two photos are in Eva's kitchen, in a beautiful octagonal house built by her dad in the 70s. Probably one of my favorite homes and kitchens out there...

  3. good morning tess

    sitting in front of the fire (it's 39 degrees)
    wishing I was eating warm pear cake