A Winter Dessert, Deep Dark Chocolate Almond Pear Tart

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The light goes early this late November. I catch the last few minutes as my tart comes out of the oven. Dark, deeper colors as the sun sets casting a winter mood.

Deep dark chocolate….ground almonds…6 ripe, yet firm fall pears. Strong and delicate flavors melded to become something magical in the waning light.

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Small Seckel Pears, sometimes called “sugar pears” due to their sweetness. are the perfect fit for this recipe. Pears are very abundant in markets these days with a great variety on offer.

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Carefully cored and peeled,  I used the stems to add a bit of style.  I love the way they look when baked on top of each little pear.

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Before and after baking….

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…up close, ready to slice and eat.

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Yum and yum.

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A Winter Dessert, Deep, Dark Chocolate Almond Pear Tart

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

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Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened + extra for brushing on tart pan
  • 6 firm, yet ripe Seckel Pears, cored, peeled, saving stems
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup almonds, whole or slivered
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemons zest
  • powdered sugar/confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Brush tart pan sides and bottom with softened butter.
  3. Toss prepped pears with the lemon juice
  4. Process sugar and almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Add butter, eggs, cocoa powder, vanilla and almond extracts, salt and zest until combined into a thick batter. Scrape batter into the tart pan and spread out evenly.
  5. Gently press pears into the batter around the edge of the pan evenly spaced. Insert the stems down into the pears. Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Bake tart until puffy, for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out with a few wet crumbs attached. Take care to not overbake. Cool tart on a wire rack.
  7. Serve dusted with powdered sugar if desired.

“Pear-Blueberry Clafoutis Southern-Style”

pear

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I am quite smitten with my pears this summer. I have spent some time gazing at them and even more time posing them, turning them this way and that, looking at how they catch the light at different hours of the day.  They are very willing models…silent, accommodating and seductively gorgeous.

This is not Food on Fifth’s first “pear rodeo” so to speak. In years past I have posted “A Series of Coincidences Involving Pears”,  “Pear Infused Vodka” and “A Seasonal and Southern Red Bartlett Pear-Almond Cake”. Soon a pear jam will appear on these pages…not today, but soon.

A Clafoutis (lovely to say aloud softly and be sure to keep the “s”),  and very French…a perfect pairing with my Southern twist…cornbread mix from “Southern City Flavors”, which you can buy at Whole Foods Markets or online,  and blueberries….a very oooh la la morning moment.

pear clafouti

This recipe is my adaptation of the classic French clafoutis which is pretty hard to trump. I was working on a photo shoot with Mike Weeks, proprietor of “Southern City Flavors” recently and he gave me a couple of bags of his cornmeal mix. Familiar with this product via Batch Nashville, I knew it would be a good fit with my Southern-style clafoutis.

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Quick and so easy, a warm, just out of the oven clafoutis with local berries & pears, light and custardy, just a hint of cornmeal crunch….powdered sugar or not…is what Sunday’s are made for. Oui? Oui!

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Sans a dusting of powdered sugar……..with a dusting of powdered sugar.

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Pear-Blueberry Clafoutis, Southern-Style

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

clafoutis

Ingredients:

  • 6 small ripe, but firm pears, halved & cores removed
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 TBSP softened butter
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar, divided
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 generous TBSP vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup white cornbread mix
  • powdered sugar if desired

Directions for Cooking:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter an 8 to 10 inch baking dish. Sprinkle the buttered dish with 2 TBSP of the raw sugar. Arrange halved & cored pears cut side down in the bottom of the dish. Scatter the blueberries over the pears. Set aside.
  3. In a blender or with a hand mixer, blend the milk, remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, salt & cornbread mix together.
  4. Pour batter over the pears & blueberries gently tapping the dish on the kitchen counter to get out any air bubbles.
  5. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown on top.
  6. Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar if desired.

Ruby Red Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Filling

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I like to make things. I’m pretty sure that is one of the reasons I ended up being a food stylist by trade and a jack-of-all-trades by nature. Making “beauty” is really what all my
“making” obsessions are about. Beauty that is organic & natural, beauty to look at, beauty to use every day, beauty that you can eat, beauty that is often an ode to times past, times in the future, or times that never were.

Such is this cake. A riff on the classic “Victoria Sponge Cake”, an ode to a time of lawn parties, women strolling across green parks in white dresses, croquet games where men wore bowler hats & seersucker suits. To a time when cakes were special, beautiful and meaningful.

Here is how you make my “Ruby Red Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Filling”

Shopping list: 2 pints of small strawberries, 1 pint of whipping cream, 1 carton of mascarpone cheese, 1 lemon, super-fine sugar or regular granulated sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, self-rising flour, 5 eggs, salt, parchment paper, oil to grease pans

Make it:

1. Preferably use local Spring strawberries, (these ruby red beauties came from the Downtown Nashville Farmer’s Market), 2 pints rinsed & drained, caps removed. Leave berries whole unless they are large, then cut in half. Set aside.

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2. To make this very easy sponge-cake you will need 5 large eggs separated, 3/4 cup superfine sugar (if you don’t have then pulse regular granulated sugar in a food processor for a few seconds to make your own), 1 1/4 cups self-rising flour sifted with a pinch of salt.

3. Grease & line two 8 or 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper. Grease the paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Whisk egg yolks & sugar together until a pale yellow.  Using a stand or hand mixer whip egg whites until stiff.  Whisk egg whites into yolks. Gently sprinkle sifted flour over eggs in batches and fold into eggs using a large metal spoon until all the flour is mixed in.

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5. Divide batter between two prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cake layers are light golden brown  & cooked in the middle. Remove from pans to cool completely on wire racks.

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6. Mix 1 cup or container of marcarpone cheese, which is slightly sweet,  with the juice & zest of half a lemon. Blend well.

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8. Place one cooled cake layer on a cake plate or stand. Spread lemon mascarpone on top. Arrange half the berries over &  gently press them into the cheese. Dust with a bit of powdered sugar.

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9.  Top layer of berries with the second cake layer. Whip one cup of heavy cream with 2 tbsp powdered sugar & 1 tbsp vanilla extract until stiff peaks form. Spread on top of second cake layer. Top whipped cream with the remaining berries. Dust with additional powdered sugar if desired.

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11. Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.  I made this cake from start to finish in 1 hour. It keeps well lightly covered for a day or two in the fridge.

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Notice the texture of the cake….very sponge-like!

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Making this cake will create a sense of well-being, make you think about the historical context of baking cakes, allow you to use fresh, local, just picked strawberries that taste like berries should.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Blackberries, A Snake and An Upside Down (Gluten Free) Cake

Fresh Blackberries Please

I will bet most of you do not think of Blackberries and immediately think of Snakes…yes real live Snakes! Let me just say I am pretty crazy about freshly picked Blackberries, but not so crazy about snakes (sorry snake lovers). Why, you might ask, do I think of these two things simultaneously? Let me tell share with you a very short vignette….

….West Tennessee on a dry, dusty, hotter-than-Hades kind of day…lots of years ago when I was around 9 or 10…

I loved doing anything with my Grandmother (Granny) no matter if it was work or play.  I always wanted to tag along. The wild blackberries hung heavy & ripe all around so it was time to go berry-picking, the wild kind not the kind of blackberries planted in neat rows.  We were cautioned to wear “real shoes” &  to take care when blackberry picking as snakes liked berry patches.  This caution, along with many others doled out on such occasions, was met with a certain nonchalance on my part. Before this particular day, not after, nor since.

The sun was relentless as we began to pick around the outer edge of the very dense berry patch. At first reaching what was easy. But so very many large juicy black berries were just out of my reach a few feet into the patch. I wanted those berries. I boldly stepped forward with one foot lifted off the ground when I “felt” something move liquid smooth, quietly, directly beneath where I was about to plant my foot. I froze, foot midair.  Looking down I saw the snake slithering, very large & fat right underneath my berries & my foot. I am convinced to this day that I did levitate, backwards, out of the berry patch. There is something very Biblical about levitation isn’t there? And Fruit? And Snakes?

I did not pick anymore berries that summer.  I have picked since, I have bought many berries that others have picked, I am still pretty crazy about blackberries, but still not so much about snakes.

Here is a really easy not-so-sweet upside down cake that I made last Sunday using fresh local Blackberries picked by others, along with a few Pluots.

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Here is what you will need to make this very dense moist gluten-free cake:

Ingredients for Upside Down Cake

1/2 stick Butter, 1 pint of Blackberries, 2 Pluots (or plums or peaches), 1 cup Raw Sugar/Turbinado, 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread Mix, 1 cup Almond Meal Flour, the zest of 1 Lemon, 3 eggs, 2 cups Buttermilk, Sliced Almonds

Here is how you make it:

Skillet with Browned Butter

1. Place a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet with the 1/2 stick of butter over medium high heat until the butter is browned. Remove skillet from heat & set aside to cool somewhat. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Let me take a moment to say that if you do not have an iron skillet get one. A good seasoned cast iron skillet is just the best thing to use for all sorts of cooking. Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillets can be purchased very affordably on-line. I have many of their skillets in various sizes that I use daily.  For this recipe I am using my Great Grandmother’s iron skillet which is amazing well seasoned and is one of the reasons this cake will slip right out of the pan after it is cooked with no sticking.

Blackberries & Pluots in Iron Skillet

2. Slice Pluots & arrange in the bottom of the iron skillet over the browned butter. Sprinkle the Blackberries to cover bottom of skillet between & around Pluot slices.

Batter for Upside Down Cake

3. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the cornmeal, almond flour & sugar.  Add eggs & buttermilk & lemon zest.  Blend until batter is smooth. Spread batter over fruit in the skillet. Sprinkle with a generous handful of sliced almonds.

Upside down cake batterUpside down cake batter over fruit

Batter in skilletSliced Almonds over Upside Down Cake Batter

4. Bake in 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown &  bubbly around the edges & set in the center. Let cake cool in the skillet for about 10 minutes.

Upside Down Cake Baked

5. The “reveal” of an upside down cake is always the fun part. Place a plate or platter larger than the skillet face down over the skillet & then quickly & carefully invert plate & skillet right side up.

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See how easy that was?

Blackberry Upside Down Cake

The crunch of the cornmeal combined with the browned butter, lemon zest & almond flavors & not too much sugar meld to make a very satisfying breakfast cake. Dust with a bit of powdered sugar if desired.

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Have you ever picked wild berries? Have you ever almost stepped on a snake? Do you connect foods you eat to events  from your past?

After I posted this my friend Diane Stopford, a Dubliner, left me a comment and a link to a poem by Seamus Heaney “Blackberry Picking” which I wanted to share with you. Thanks Diane.

Eat more Cake.

“Victoria Sponge & Strawberries”

“Old Fashioned Victoria Sponge Cake with Tennessee Strawberries”

This Saturday I bought a few pints of fresh picked Tennessee Strawberries at the Sylvan Park Farmer’s Market. This year’s crop is especially abundant and sweet. These small juicy  berries call out for a light sponge cake &  freshly whipped cream slightly seasoned with vanilla & sugar. I don’t often make desserts but as we were going to a dinner party and I was asked to bring dessert I wanted to make a special treat that would be a take off on the classic strawberry shortcake, but lighter. This dessert is easy to make from start to finish and is a stunner. It’s like eating air with a dash of sweetness.


To make a simple light sponge cake you will need the following:


2 sticks butter softened to room temp, use a little to grease cake pans (JD’s Dairy butter worked great for this cake.)

1 cup superfine sugar

4 eggs

(I used fresh local eggs from McDonalds that I purchased at the Sylvan Park Farmer’s Market as well)

1 3/4 cups self-rising flour & a pinch of salt (White Lily Flour is a good choice)

2 tbsp warm water

1 cup whipping cream + 1 tbsp sugar + 1 tsp vanilla

2 cups local, sweet strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar for dusting top of cake

To Make the Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease two 8 inch cake pans with butter & line bottom of each with a circle of wax paper.

3. Using a hand mixer cream together the butter & sugar until well mixed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Sift flour &  salt over the creamed mixture. Add warm water & beat together until well mixed. Batter is a thick, light & creamy texture.


5. Divide cake mixture evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until cakes are done in the centers. Remove from oven.  Turn cake layer out onto cooling racks until completely cool.

6. Using a serrated knife split each cake into two layers. Use three for this cake. Wrap &  store 4th layer for later in the week when you want to make strawberry shortcakes for two.

7. Whip cream with sugar & vanilla. Place one layer on cake stand or cake plate & cover with half the sweetened whip cream. Top with half of the strawberries.

8. Add 2nd cake layer and press down slightly. Spread remaining half of whipped cream over cake & top with remaining sliced berries.

9. Place 3rd cake layer on top of berries pressing down slightly. Dust top with confectioner’s sugar. Place in refrigerator to chill until ready to serve. This cake is best assembled a couple of hours before serving. Serve cut into wedges with additional dusting of confectioner’s sugar if desired.


This type of cake was originally called a “Victoria Sponge Cake” named for Queen Victoria. It sounds fancy, looks fancy but is one of the easiest desserts to make to show off Spring Strawberries.

A bit about Victoria Sponge Cake & Self-Rising Flour from Wikipedia:

Victoria sponge

The Victoria sponge cake was named after Queen Victoria, who favoured a slice of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea. It is often referred to simply as sponge cake, though it contains additional fat. A traditional Victoria sponge consists of raspberry jam and whipped double cream or vanilla cream, just jam is referred to as a ‘jam sponge’ and most certainly not a Victoria sponge. The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated.

Self-Rising Flour

Leavening agents are used with some flours, especially those with significant gluten content, to produce lighter and softer baked products by embedding small gas bubbles. Self-raising (or self-rising) flour is sold premixed with chemical leavening agents. The added ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the flour which aids a consistent and even rise in baked goods. This flour is generally used for preparing scones, biscuits, muffins, etc. This type of flour was invented by Henry Jones and patented in 1845. Plain flour can be used to make a type of self-rising flour although the flour will be more coarse. Self-raising flour is typically composed of the following ratio:

  • 1 cup flour;  1 teaspoon baking powder;  a pinch to ½ teaspoon salt
  • “Pick Your Own”

There are lots of farms in Middle Tennessee where you can pick-your-own berries for freezing, making jams & jellies or for creating your own desserts. Just go to the website listed below to find a farm near you.

http://www.pickyourown.org/TNmiddle.htm

eat more cake…….