Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce

Over the past couple of months I have incorporated a new Sunday night routine into my life. One gaining such sacred status I don't dare schedule or consider doing anything else. The routine begins with spending an hour in an 'extremely hot, sweat inducing, buckets of water dripping from your skin' room. The second hour is spent painfully stretching my body to its' limits. Much to my surprise the physical exhaustion coming from this self-inflicted torturous routine, aka my newest love-hate relationship, is actually a bit exhilarating. Because don't we all experience an endorphin rush high after surviving a 'push yourself to your limits' ordeal? I have come to discover there are endless benefits to these hot and restorative Sunday night yoga classes. But possibly none better than sharing the stamina-endurance experience with friends.

Sometimes we make this Sunday night routine a three hour experience. The third hour focuses only on rehydration. And water is always one of the options.

Not that I needed one, but I wanted a reason to make this Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce. So I surveyed the 'yoga posse' to learn whether or not they liked pears. Fortunately they all did. Our next third hour wouldn't only include hydration. There would also be cake. And not just any cake. But a cake pairing well with chilled prosecco.

Almost everything I bake is 'made from scratch'. However, when I came across the recipe for the Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce, I decided it might be okay, just this once, to channel my well-hidden inner Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee self.

The ingredients for the cake include pureed (canned) pears, pear liquid, oil, egg whites, and, drum roll please.....a box of white cake mix. Slathered in a freshly whipped cream icing, lined with finely chopped toasted walnuts, topped with pear slices, and drizzled with homemade caramel sauce make this 'semi-homemade' cake look and taste more one made from scratch. And technically, two-thirds of it is.

Baked in a ten-inch bundt pan, the cake bakes for 40-45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. After cooling the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, it needs an additional 90 minutes to completely cool to room temperature. Note: Remember to invert the cake onto your cake stand or platter so the top of the cake is completely flat.

The most significant changes made to the stamina-endurance recipe were to the Whipped Cream Icing. In addition to increasing the ingredient amounts (because if there is going to be whipped cream icing, there needs to be lots of it), I added sour cream to stabilize it. Freshly whipped cream has a tendency to weep and lose its' fluffy cloud-like texture after a relatively short period of time. There are essentially two ways of stabilizing whipped cream: adding unflavored gelatin or sour cream. I used sour cream, however, if you want to try making the icing with gelatin, read the Cook's Illustrated article to learn how.

The finely chopped toasted walnuts pressed into the sides of the iced pear cake add both texture and flavor. If you aren't a big fan of walnuts, you can always toast and chop hazelnuts. The nuts are one of the finishing touches guaranteed to make you look like pastry chef when you bring the cake to the table.

I used canned pears in light syrup for the cake portion of the recipe, but went with pears in heavy syrup to top the cake. The canned pear halves are cut into slices and fanned out on the top of the cake. I had thought about using roasted pears instead of the canned pears (because honestly I was still a little anxious about making a semi-homemade cake), but time constraints made the decision for me. After tasting the cake topped with the canned pears, I am not sure if I will ever top it with roasted pears. Yes, who knew canned pears could be so loved by a self-admitted fussyterian.

The caramel sauce may be this cake's pièce de résistance. Not only is it drizzled over the top of the cake, each slice of cake is placed on plate drizzled with a bit more.

The cake can be made, iced, and topped pear slices several hours before serving. The caramel sauce can be made ahead as well and kept at room temperature. Before serving, simply warm the sauce over low heat before drizzling over the cake.

Served over a bed of warm caramel sauce this Pear Cake makes for an incredibly elegant presentation. This dense, moist cake, ever so lightly pear flavored, is dinner party, birthday party, special occasion party, or rehydration gathering worthy. Nothing about this cake looks or tastes like 'semi-homemade' (which may only be important to those of us who obsess about such things). If there was ever a cake to get both unanimous rave reviews and oohs-and-ahhs, this would be the one. If you don't have a 'special' occasion coming up, create one. Because you really need to make this Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce.

Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce (several adaptations to Pillsbury's Delicate Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce recipe)

1 package (15.25 ounce) Moist Supreme White Cake Mix
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 can (15 ounce) pear halves in light syrup, drained reserving 1/3 cup of pear liquid
1/3 cup reserved pear liquid
3 egg whites (from large eggs)

Caramel Sauce
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream (at least 17% fat)
generous pinch of sea salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Icing and Finishing
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (at least 17% fat)
2 Tablespoons granulated or caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream 
1 can (15 ounce) pear halves in heavy syrup, well drained (or can roast your own pears, see note below)
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Prepare a 10 inch tube pan with removable bottom.
2. Drain 1 can of pear halves, reserving 1/3 cup of the liquid.
3. Place drained pear halves in food processor. Process until smooth.
4. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine cake mix, pureed pears, the reserved 1/3 cup pear liquid, oil, and egg whites. Beat at low speed until combined.
5. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto serving plater. Allow cake to cool for at least 90 minutes before icing.

1. In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, whipping cream and sea salt. Bring to a boil. Continue boiling for an additional 5 minutes (stirring frequently) until the sauce has thickened and is golden in color. 
2. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir until incorporated.
3. Allow to cool to room temperature.

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the whipping cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla and sour cream.

1. Drain pears (discard liquid). Cut pear halves lengthwise (should yield about 32 slices).
2. Frost the cooled cake with the whipped icing. 
3. Arrange pear slices on top of cake, slightly overlapping.
4. Press nuts into the side of the cake.
5. Drizzle 3-5 Tablespoons of the caramel sauce over the top of the sliced pears.
6. To serve, spoon 2 Tablespoons of caramel sauce onto each individual dessert plate. Top with a slice of cake. Or serve sauce on the side.

Notes: (1) Instead of topping the cake with drained, canned pears, top with slices of roasted pears. Like these Honey and Butter Baked Pears. (2) The sour cream helps to stabilize the whipped cream. (3) Serve this cake with some chilled Prosecco for an added celebratory touch. (4) The completed cake can be prepared up to 4 hours in advance of serving, however, wait to drizzle the caramel sauce over the top until ready to serve. Keep any leftover cake in the refrigerator. (5) I used the Pillsbury White Supreme Cake Mix in the making of the cake.

Outside and inside views of vacant arsenal bunkers on the grounds of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

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