[Bodega Head, December 2006.]
Each year on Thanksgiving I can’t help but reflect on the things for which I’m particularly grateful. Today, I feel very thankful for
– This beautiful place in which I live — in all its bright sun and crashing ocean, redwood forests and bay trees that sweeten the air
– The 6 miles I ran this morning, up and down the hills of the back roads (and every run I have, really)
– A farmers’ market within walking distance of my house for most of the year
– Finally finding yoga, and its continuing presence in my life
– All the fabulous travel opportunities in which I’ve been able to indulge this year
– The hope of peace
– That it’s sunny and warm today!
But enough of all this. There’s real, important things to discuss, and I don’t mean swoony poems about yoga, or more love letters to California. No, I’ll cut right to the chase: dessert.
You might want to try my apple pie recipe that I turn to again and again (I made it last night, for example), though I’d expect (hope?) you’ve already taken care of your sweet course. I hope you’ll have a pumpkin pie — which is my favorite kind of pie, and I’m not even really what you’d call a pie person — or perhaps you’ll serve tiramisu, to shake things up.
But I have to ask: What about Saturday’s dessert? Now, you’ll say you have leftovers enough to feed an army, but what if you don’t? What if, after today’s cooking orgy, you’re inspired to do more? You might be left feeling a little lonely this weekend, after the guests have gone home, a cold oven is staring you in the face, and no stomach for anything resembling baked squash in any form.
If so, I entreat you to consider this luscious pear cake from Deborah Madison’s wonderful Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (veggies please take note: you must acquire this book). It’s really just a pile of buttery, caramelized pears couched in a soft, nutty cake that slips down ever so easily, and looks so pretty. After all the agony of wondering how the pie crust will turn out, making this cake is a breeze. Not to mention, your house will get all warm and cozy again; along with a cup of strongly-brewed tea, it will completely dispel the post-holiday blues.
In the meantime: Buon appetito! I’ll save a big slice of cake for the next time you come over.
Pear-Almond Upside-Down Cake, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
3 Tb. butter
3/4 light brown sugar, packed (I used dark, and it was fine)
2 large Conice or Bartlett pears
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
3 eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup blanched almonds, finely ground
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Heat the butter with the brown sugar in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until the sugar is melted and smooth, then remove pan from heat. Peel, halve, and core the pears. Cut halves lengthwise into slices about 1/4 inch thick (try to keep them uniform, but honestly, who can ever get this right?!). Overlap the slices in the pan, going around the outside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla and almond extract. Beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth. Stir in the nuts, followed by the remaining dry ingedients. Spoon the batter over the fruit and smooth it out with an offset spatula.
3. Bake in the center of the oven until the cake is golden and springy, about 35 to 40 minutes, Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then set a cake plate on top to the pan, hold tightly, and flip over. Carefully ease the pan off the cake.
4. Let cool to room temperature and serve with vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.
Note: If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, a plain old baking dish will do; melt the butter and sugar in a pan, and then pour into the baking dish (round or square) and proceed with the recipe.