black tea and caramel buckwheat pear loaf

Pears are a gorgeous fruit. I find they are set apart from apples because they poach wonderfully and retain a bit more of their texture, and quite a bit more of their composure. (Last time I poached apples, I looked away for a bit too long and they disintegrated into a pulpy and emotional mess.)

This is the sort of poached pear cake I’ve seen in various places, on the cover of a cookbook and on a blog or two. It looks quite stunning–in this version, the pears are poached in black tea, set in a rather strongly-flavoured buckwheat cake and served with a black tea and poaching liquid caramel. All in all, it was quite alright, but the black tea motif was difficult to actually identify. salted carameldrizzling caramel over poached pear cakeslice of poached pear cakeThe buckwheat cake is dense and very buckwheat-y. I made it not very sweet at all, so the caramel, rather than being cloying (though it will become cloying if you eat enough!) is a pleasant source of additional sweetness.

However, structurally, the loaf wasn’t particularly impressive. This cake would make for a rather poor brick, and is not recommended for construction of any sort, having a hidden weak centre. The pears shrunk a bit during baking–as you can see in the pictures, they’ve hunched down in their respective little loaf hollows with a fair amount of wiggle room. They also didn’t cling to the surrounding loaf. I suppose I wasn’t really expecting them too anyways, but they may have had the pears been drier. As a result of this, it was also a bit difficult to keep the pear slice as part of the loaf slice without the two falling apart. (Cake slices are not recommended for use as shingles).

Now, on the cake side of things, it was actually surprisingly fun to eat a slice of cake with a thick slab of poached pear in the middle.

Does the black tea flavour or poaching liquid flavour come out in the caramel? I can’t tell, which I’m pretty sure means no, it doesn’t. It might be a bit more bitter though, which to me is a rather nice thing. Next time I would use spice-poached pears and a spice-infused caramel instead–perhaps some stronger flavours would come out better.black tea and caramel buckwheat pear loaf 

black tea and cardamom poached pears

~ 3 c water, or enough water to partially fill the saucepan you use

1 tsp black tea leaves

3 green cardamom pods, cracked

1/4 c granulated sugar

3 pears

Heat the water in a saucepan just big enough to fit the three pears. Put the black tea in a tea ball, and add this to the water, along with the cardamom and sugar.

Peel the pears and place into the simmering water. Cover and let simmer gently–I went a wrote an essay, okay, so just a paragraph of an essay, during this time–for a while. Check the pears with a knife, it should be tender all the way through. Remove the tea ball (if it seems as though it is getting too strong, you may want to remove the tea earlier). Turn off the heat and let the pears cool in the poaching liquid.

 

buckwheat loaf

Vaguely based off of nothing in particular.

75 g soft butter

75 g granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp lemon zest

80 g buckwheat flour

125 g all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

pinch salt

100 mL thick Greek yoghurt

150 mL milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a loaf pan with a parchment sling and butter any unlined surfaces.

Cream butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla, lemon zest, and cardamom.

Separately, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the yoghurt and milk.

Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.

Slice the bottom off of each of the poached pears so that they can stand up. Place them in the loaf pan. Carefully spoon the cake batter around the pears and evenly spread it out.

Bake the loaf until an inserted skewer is removed clean. It would go faster if your pears are at room temperature instead of cold, like mine were.

 

black tea caramel glaze

Adapted from Dash of Texas. Makes a generous amount of glaze–more than you’ll use! I  put in 1/4 tsp salt. At first I thought I put in too much, but then I liked it with the cake. I would recommend putting in a bit less if you’ll be eating it with other things, and then sprinkle some addition flaky salt overtop if necessary.

80 mL heavy cream

1 black tea bag

1/4 c granulated sugar

2 tbsp pear poaching liquid

2 tbsp butter (~28 g)

kosher salt, I put in around 1/4 tsp

Heat the cream until scalded. Put in the tea bag and set aside to let it steep 20 minutes or so. Squeeze the tea bag to remove any excess cream. Pass the cream through a strainer and measure out 60 mL (1/4 c) that will be used for the caramel. I had just enough.

Place the sugar in a small saucepan and start it off with the poaching liquid, heating over medium-high heat until bubbling. Continue to cook until the sugar is a nice amber colour. Add the butter and whisk in, then remove from the heat and add the cream slowly, whisking constantly. Lastly, whisk in a bit of salt.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool before using.

 

When you’re ready to serve the cake, drizzle the top with caramel. Slice into thick pieces and serve with additional glaze if desired.

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windfall tarte tatin

Urban gardens and community orchards are never quite how I envision they should be–something like an orchard out of a juice commercial on television, laden with ripe fruit. The reality is that most ripe apples are out of reach, the remainder are green, mainly nibbled and even more loll at the foot of the trunk, hidden in the grass or nearby bushes.

What make these orchards different is the closeness. The fruit, though sometimes it may be difficult to nice, is quite abruptly there. It is a closeness that extends not only to hidden strawberries and dry saskatoon berries, but to the  hail-pockmarked and bruised apples littering the ground. It’s probably only something I started appreciating recently when a lady who works at a community orchard passed us a bag full of windfall apples she had collected from the ground this past fall.I decided on a tarte tatin, where a deep golden brown caramel will camouflage even the most thoroughly bruised apple. Besides, the apples had retained sufficient structural integrity to destine them for more than apple sauce.

Beyond the practical aspects, I also wanted to make something very very much about the apples. While I intended to, in some manner or another, transform the apples (or at the very least, well trim the apples), these were not trivial apples. Apples are never trivial, but these ones in particular, after being collected and given to us, deserved to be heard. Or, at the very least, tasted.This is tarte tatin the way my (Chinese) grandpa taught me to make it (except with a lot less butter). It is simple and intuitive, because there is little that can go terribly wrong with butter and sugar and apples. For a while it was always the dessert of choice either of us would make. A few slices would be traded back and forth, accompanied by some comments on the crust, the caramelization, the crispness, and form.

The comments we made were never with the strict intention and purpose of improvement. The method was always so vague and lacked the systematic nature of a protocol that would have allowed for rigour and evaluation. These days I notice that I’ve probably developed sufficient common sense that this tarte tatin, completely out of the blue and with little reference beyond my vague memories of previous days, turned out just fine.

The key, I believe, is attaining proper caramelization. I wouldn’t worry about burning; the addition of the apples provides sufficient moisture to prevent the bottom from scorching, so the caramel can be as deep as you like. In the past I also used to partially cook the apples on the stovetop. I decided that wasn’t necessary, and this time just layered the apples in, threw the pastry overtop, and set it immediately in the oven. Perhaps it took longer, but by the time the pastry was browned, the apples were tender but not overcooked.

Do enjoy, particularly if a sudden windfall (of apples) comes your way.windfall tarte tatin

apples

~3 tbsp butter

~3/4 c sugar

pastry, of any sort; I made a batch like what I made here, scaled to 1 stick of butter

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Melt the butter in a cast iron pan, sprinkle the sugar overtop, and cook until it forms a deep caramel. Arrange the apple slices overtop.

Roll out the pastry and tuck over the apples. Bake the tarte tatin for around half an hour or until the pastry is browned and the apples below are cooked through.

apricot and cardamom scones

apricot cardamom spelt scone with butterdried apricots soaked in teadried apricots soaked in earl grey teabutter rubbed into flourcutting out a sconeunbaked scones

I’m very indecisive when it comes to scones.

Should they be finely textured and tender? Or biscuity, the fluffy and flaky sort? Maybe they should they be flaky and crisp? Or more solid, reminiscent of a soda bread?

These are all acceptable scones to me. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to achieve each particular type specifically–instead I make a scone and decide, post-baking, how they turned out. I’m conveniently open-minded to most of the results.apricot cardamom spelt sconesapricot cardamom spelt scones piled in bowlThese scones are midway between the finely textured and tender, with a bit of biscuity crispness without much flake. They are also the first decent scone to star on the blog. It’s a heartening development for the future of scones, though on the biscuit-side, things are still quite dismal.

Exercise caution with the quanitities in this recipe. I’ve made the original recipe these scones are based on a couple times and found the dough too wet. This adaptation was no exception, and the issue was exacerbated by the tea-soaked apricots. As a result, the final flour quantities are an estimated approximation of how much flour I ended up using–so use some of that scone common sense (the sort of common sense I lack) and adjust as necessary.

And so yes, some more scones. apricot cardamom spelt scone broken in halfapricot and cardamom spelt scones

Adapted from this scone recipe (which is really good, by the way). Makes 8 large scones. 

1 c dried apricots, sliced

very strong and hot earl grey tea

180 g all purpose flour

105 g spelt flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 c heavy cream

3 eggs

120 g cold butter, cut into small pieces

a bit of egg and sugar for the top of the scones

Pour the hot tea over the apricots and allow to sit for 20 minutes to allow the apricots to plump. Drain and let the apricots cool to room temperature. (The leftover apricot-infused earl grey tea tastes very nice!)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Whisk together the flours, spices, salt, sugar and baking powder. Separately, whisk together the egg and cream. Toss the butter in the flour mixture and rub into the flour until it forms a variety of pea-sized crumbs. Add the apricots and mix until the apricots are just coated with flour. Then add the cream and egg mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

Turn out onto a flour surface, knead a couple of times, and then pat out until around 3/4″ tall. Cut out scones with a round cutter or glass. Set on a parchment lined baking tray, and reroll the scraps as necessary to produce additional scones.

Brush with egg and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through (if you have a scraggly scone made from the last scraps of dough pressed together, this one can be cut in half to confirm the scones are cooked through). Let cool on a wire rack, and eat still a bit warm with butter.