Monday December 27, 2010

Winter Pears and how to love them

Back when I worked at the Holly Hill Inn, some farmer gifted us a few crates of these tiny, rock hard winter pears. Too small to sell, perhaps, or just leftovers from orchard management? I really never understood the story behind them, I just knew a) no one else at H2I had any interest in tackling them b) they had really started to get underfoot and c) they didn’t cost us a dime.

Point C meant, most importantly, that if I could think of a good use for them, I could drop the food cost on that dessert menu significantly, and thus splurge elsewhere (read: expensive chocolate).

But the sad fact remained: the pears really didn’t have a very good flavor and wouldn’t for months. They had the mediocre flavor and astringent bite of underripe fruit, ruling out any fresh preparation.

Poaching failed. The pears went from zero to mushy, rocketing straight past any desirable intermediary stages like tender or creamy. Even after pureeing the poached version, I just ended up with a mealy bowl of pear-sauce flecked with strangely hard bits. I tried to make a pie, I tried to make ice cream. But I couldn’t, for the life of me, make a tasty dessert based on a crappy ingredient I didn’t like.

Until it dawned on me: carrot cake.

Carrots: meh. Carrot Cake: Yay!!

Pear Cake

So I retooled my carrot cake recipe using shredded winter pears. As dry and astringent as they seemed, after shredding them it became obvious they had a lot of moisture to part with. More so than carrots, for sure.

I squeezed and squeezed the pear shreds until they felt bone dry, reserving the juice, which mysteriously had a better flavor once liberated from its fruity prison. I jarred the juice, hoping to find a good use for it after I’d dealt with the pear itself.

Homespun cake

The hard and mealy pear shreds yielded in the oven, retaining enough bite to give the cake a pleasant texture, but nothing like the tooth chipping crunch they possessed while raw. Thus Pear Layer Cake was born.

I once made an Apple Caramel Caramel Apple (apple cider caramel dipped apples) and the palindrome came to mind as I thought of how to use the pear juice. So I ended up with a batch of caramel, which, in turn, became Caramel Buttercream.

Cake, coffee, fruit

Then fruit and juice reunited. And if I may say, in a tastier incarnation than nature had managed.

I’ve since found that, in the absence of ridiculously hard and tiny winter pear rejects from some rambling farm, any under ripe pear will work beautifully. I’ve also found a cup of coffee doesn’t hurt either.

You may have also noticed, in the very first picture, a few cookies stacked up in the mix? I had about a half cup of Caramel Pear Buttercream leftover and couldn’t bear to toss it out. So, it found a happy home sandwiched between two Gingerbread cookies, and none of us thought it a bad idea.

Just for kicks, I wanted to include a some extra pictures from our shoot. Normally, I only use a few photos in a post, but Rosco took a hundred million pix this time and I really love the B Roll type stuff. And our last post only had one measly photo, so I felt guilty. . .

photo shoot

Pears have become, like apples or bananas, a grocery store staple that seemingly knows no season. So, ironically, my recipe for Spiced Pear Layer Cake will probably work best with the hard, out of season pears you’ll find in the spring. But I always think of pears as a winter fruit, so this is the time of year when the cake appeals to me most.

So if you find yourself with a few too many under ripe pears, or needing to use up pears with a rather blah sort of flavor, I hope you’ll try out the recipe.

Caramel Pear

If, on the other hand, you have a windfall of tender, honey sweet pears at their peak, this recipe will only insult them. A perfectly ripe pear makes a wonderful dessert on its own, deserving no fate no more severe than a light poaching. But we don’t always find ourselves blessed with such pears, so I think it wise to have a Plan B.

posted byStellaand filed under:  Cakes  Fruit  Sideshow Photos

16 comments and counting

Dec 28, 2010 · 12:31 AM

Anybody can do amazing things with a good pear, but it takes a pro to make a manky pear into a treat. The combo with caramel sounds great. Wish your restaurant were a few thousand miles closer. :?)

 · Loren ·

Dec 28, 2010 · 11:51 AM

Your cake is so beautifully frosted. I never would have thought of using pears instead of carrots in a cake. It sounds wonderful!

 · Kaitlin ·

Dec 28, 2010 ·  2:39 PM

I stored this recipe immediately in my online cookbook @ I can’t wait to try this! I just love pears.

 · Laura ·

Dec 30, 2010 ·  5:25 PM

I love behind the scenes shots! I need to invest in some kind of lighting so I don’t have to rush to have everything done before I lose sunlight in my apartment. Oh, and that cake looks divine!

 · cathy ·

Jan 02, 2011 ·  8:21 PM

I stumbled on this site and am in love with it. I can not wait to challenge myself and I will be coming back. I would love to come to your restaurant. Maybe one day… So this was not very clever but, flattering!!


 · Crash · 

Jan 02, 2011 ·  9:53 PM

Thanks so much for the kind words! Hope you have a chance to try a recipe on your own at home, if not in the restaurant. Cheers!


Jan 06, 2011 ·  8:11 PM

I’ve made this before in my restaurant. The catchy term you are looking for is “pearamel!” It is so delicious!

 · breakchef · 

Jan 06, 2011 ·  9:31 PM

Wow, that is awesome. I love it, pearamel!! Your restaurant sounds like my kinda place!


Jan 07, 2011 ·  2:12 PM

What great ideas for pears. I had never thought about shredding them like carrots for cake before. Everything looks yummy!

 · Cubicle ·

Jan 20, 2011 · 11:09 AM

Love what you did with the pears! So smart.

 · brilynn ·

Jan 24, 2011 · 10:09 PM

Oh wow! Sheer brilliance! I would have never thought of that! The cake looks beautiful, and delicious

 · Dee ·

Feb 24, 2011 · 11:37 PM

great idea, fantastic photos!! I’ve been looking at ideas and recipes for a pear related cake. This one sounds just perfect since I don’t have much of a thing for carrot cakes

 · Swee San ·

Feb 25, 2011 · 12:04 AM

What a great idea! I love carrot cake…but pears just strike me as such an elegant fruit. Looks divine! Especially with the caramel buttercream. Uh YUM.

 · Beauty & the Feast ·

Feb 25, 2011 · 10:09 AM

The cake is pretty great, it has that same sort of nibby texture of carrot cake, but a fruity, maybe even floral sort of flavor. I’m surprised to see so many people who aren’t fans of carrot cake, I always think of that as one of those universally loved cakes.

At any rate, it does feel a little more elegant to use pears, if for no other reason than the novelty. If anyone ever gives the recipe a try, let me know! I’d love to hear how it turns out for you.


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