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Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

 

I’ve made dozens and dozens of gingerbread cookies, and baked and decorated many gingerbread houses when my kids were little, but a gingerbread cake? Well, I’d never made one, and if truth be told, had never eaten a slice of one until a few years ago. It wasn’t a flavor that I’d grown up with or ever had the yen to seek out on my own. But I have to say, I was a convert after tasting that first slice of gingerbread cake a few years ago at the house of friends.

Those same friends who served the gingerbread cake – Jan and Dave – also send us a box of Harry & David pears each Christmas. Last year, I made an upside down pear walnut cake with some of them last year here. We loved the nuttiness of this cake, but I wanted to try something different this year.

Eureka! I found a cake recipe combining gingerbread with pears in an upside down cake crowned with a luscious caramel-y top. It turns out pears and gingerbread were made to party together!

Although I’ve made many upside down cakes, with fruits of all kinds, most of them (not the walnut cake) have a basic white or yellow cake batter as the base. Like the walnut cake though, this gingerbread cake recipe is a welcome change from the standard upside down cake batter.  Lay the pear slices in a cast iron skillet (or a 9″ cake pan) and pour the brown sugar/butter mixture on top.

Then make the batter, which is very dark since it contains molasses and many spices.

It comes out of the oven looking like this. Run a butterknife around the edge, then using two pot holders, place a large platter (a wider diameter than the pan) over the cake and flip it over. Careful, don’t burn yourself on the pan or the hot syrup.

Top it with whipped cream or ice cream. Of course, the topping is not strictly necessary, but the coolness of the cream with the spiciness of the cake is divine. Besides, what are a few more calories when bathing suit weather is still months away?

This cake is best eaten warm from the oven, but it tastes delicious the next day too. Unlike most white or yellow upside down cakes, whose texture get denser the next day, this gingerbread cake maintains its tender crumb and moist texture even a few days after baking. The pears and the brown sugar topping do soften somewhat if you don’t eat it all the day it’s baked, however. It serves at least eight people, so plan on taking some to a neighbor as I did, or invite some friends in for coffee and cake.

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
moist and flavorful upside down pear gingerbread cake
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Serves: 9-12 servings
Ingredients
  • TOPPING:
  • 4 firm medium pears
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • GINGERBREAD CAKE:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1½ tsps. ground ginger
  • 1⅓ tsps. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup unsulphured or dark molasses
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ⅓ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • whipped cream, to serve (optional)
Instructions
  1. Prepare the topping: Lightly grease a 9" square or round baking pan (I used a cast iron skillet).
  2. Peel, core and slice pears into thick slices.
  3. Tightly layer the pears in the prepared pan. Set aside.
  4. Whisking constantly, heat the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Once butter has melted, vigorously whisk to ensure the butter is not separating from the brown sugar.
  6. Once it comes together, pour evenly over pears.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. MAKE THE CAKE:
  9. Whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and slat together.
  10. Set aside.
  11. Whisk the molasses and hot water together. Set aside.
  12. Beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  13. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  14. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 1 minute.
  15. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
  16. Turn the mixer off and add the dry ingredients and molasses/water.
  17. Turn the mixer on low and mix just until combined.
  18. The batter will be a little thick.
  19. Carefully pour/spread batter on top of pears.
  20. Bake for around 35-45 minutes or until the cake is baked through (I put a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil on the rack below the cake to catch any butter/brown sugar that might spill out).
  21. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake.
  22. If it comes out clean, it's done.
  23. If you notice the edges or top browning too quickly, tent the cake with aluminum foil.
  24. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate
  25. Best served warm.
 

Sugar Cookie Christmas Tree

I know you’re all frantically trying to get everything done before Christmas, and may not have time to make this cookie Christmas tree, but you might want to tuck away this idea for next year, especially if there are kids in the family. This “Christmas tree” is composed of delicious sugar cookies, covered in royal icing, which acts as a sweet “glue” keeping the tower from toppling over.

I made a similar tree last year with the grandkids, cutting out templates for each size of the cookie layers with scissors and paper templates. Even though it was a little tedious to cut using a knife around pieces of paper instead of real cookie cutters, it all came together, and they were eager to dig into it, decorated with green frosting and red candies.

This year, however, I ordered cookie cutters online made just for such a project,  and it sure made things a whole lot easier. I decorated it only in white, using royal icing, and sparkly edible crystals to simulate the feeling of snow. I made the cookie cake in steps, so the job wasn’t so onerous, baking the cookies ahead of time and freezing them, then frosting and assembling the towering tree weeks later

Here’s a closer look at the layers, which you swivel to alternate the points, as you’re building the tree. The royal icing, made of egg whites and sugar, dries as hard as cement, but you might need to just steady each layer for a moment before moving to the next. Start by “glueing” the bottom layer to the plate so it doesn’t slip.

Before you know it, you’ll have a towering edible tree, that adults and kids alike will love. It may be hard to dig in and break up this beauty, but hey, you’ll be making a lot of people happy, and you can always make another one next year. 

I’m so fortunate to have so many family members sharing in the joy with me at Christmas time, including my 97-year-old father,  who still enjoys a good glass of wine (and still plays golf!),

and the newest and youngest member of our family – my two month old granddaughter, Aurelia. And we have another new granddaughter coming any day now, from my husband’s side of the family!! Our family has really grown in the last couple of years. I count my lucky stars every day!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday too, surrounded by good friends and family. Thank you to all my readers who followed me this year. I really appreciate your support. See you in 2019!

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Sorry for the formatting of this recipe, but WordPress updated and the icon for the “Easywrite” recipe (that allows you to print the recipe without printing the entire post) is missing. I’ll try to figure it out for the next post, but if any of my readers, who are also food bloggers and who also use WordPress, can clue me in, please drop me a line and let me know. 

Cookie Christmas Tree Recipe

5 cups flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

3 sticks butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsps. vanilla

Beat the butter and sugar together at a medium high speed until pale and light, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour, mixing until well combined.

Form dough into four balls and flatten into disks. Keep each disk wrapped for about 1/2 hour or so.

Roll out a disk of dough onto a well-floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick. I found it easiest to roll onto parchment paper, especially for the large shapes, so I could easily transfer the parchment paper to the baking sheet without risk of ripping the dough. Cut the largest shapes first, and remove the excess dough from the parchment paper. Set that dough aside to reuse with other pieces later.

Keep cutting out the stars, using the largest shape cutters two or three times each, and some of the smaller shape cutters two or three times each, until you run out of fresh dough. Make more cookies, gathering the remaining scraps and reroll them, but try not to reroll more than once, or you’ll get a tougher cookie. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven about 10 to 12 minutes.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

1 tsp. vanilla

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Whip egg whites until frothy and add the vanilla, then the confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Beat on high speed until the mixture is glossy and thick.

Pipe or spread some of the icing on the plate to secure the first star. Then pipe or frost some of the royal icing on the tips of each layer, sprinkling with decorations immediately. Once the icing dries, you won’t be able to sprinkle anything on top. Pivot the next cookie “star” so that the tips are in a different alignment than the layer below, frosting each tip and decorating with sprinkles. Continue doing the same until you reach the top, saving the smallest star for the top. You may have to hold the cookie tree at various levels for a few minutes if it feels like it’s going to topple, until the icing sets a bit. Once the royal icing sets, it is very secure.


Easy and Delicious Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve posted a recipe for a Pandoro Christmas tree dessert in the past, filled with either a chocolate mousse filling, or a lemon curd/mascarpone filling. You can view it here. They’re as easy as can be, since the cake itself –  a traditional rich, buttery Italian Christmas treat – is purchased. All you have to do is slice it, drizzle it with some liqueur (or a simple syrup), make the fillings, and assemble the cake.

Making the filling is the hardest part. But this year, I’m making it really easy on myself with a filling made from whipped cream and a boxed vanilla pudding mix. That’s right, I’m taking a shortcut, and I have to confess, I think it’s my favorite of all the ones I’ve made in the past. After all the work that’s required for the Lucullan fish feast we enjoy on Christmas Eve, this easily prepared dessert is a much needed way to present a delicious showstopper without too much fuss.

And while we’re talking about Christmas Eve, I was recently contacted by a local newspaper, whose reporter interviewed me for a feature on holiday food traditions. As a former journalist, I’m used to being the one doing the interviewing, but this time the tables were turned and the reporter asked me lots of questions. He wrote a really nice article about my family, that includes my recipe for stuffed squid, and a photo of my dad and husband, that you can read here. But little did I know that my photo would be plastered on the front page – bad hair day, wrinkles and all! Where’s Photoshop when you need it?

Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming – and the easy Pandoro Christmas tree. Slice the cake into about seven even layers. If you’re serving it right away, dust the cake first with powdered sugar. It’s easiest to sprinkle on the sugar before you layer it and add the filling, so you can roll it on its side and get better coverage. But if you’re holding it to serve it a day or two later, it won’t matter because the sugar will dissolve into the cake.

Make the simple syrup and add the liqueur. I divided the simple syrup solution and in one I added rum. In the other I added Sambuca. I alternated flavors with different layers. If you don’t want to add liqueur, you can just the simple syrup without alcohol. The cake isn’t particularly dry, but I think it really benefits from some moistening, so don’t skip this step.

Make the instant pudding mix by mixing milk with the mix (using less milk than the box calls for, since you’ll be adding whipped cream. You don’t want it so soft that it pours out of the cake layers.) Fold in the whipped cream.

Spread some of the filling on each layer, placing each layer at a different angle from the prior one, so the tips are in different orientations.

Decorate the edges with berries and slice.

You can see, it holds together very well, even after it’s sliced. Naturally, the bottom slices will be larger portions than the top, so you’ll want to split those in half (or maybe not!)

I’m getting hungry for some again. Time to make another one.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Easy and Delicious Pandoro Tree
 
Author:
Serves: at least 12 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 large pandoro cake
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons sambuca or anisette
  • 2 Tablespoons rum
  • 1 5.1 oz. box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • berries to decorate
Instructions
  1. Slice the pandora cake horizontally, in six or seven layers.
  2. Make a simple syrup by heating the water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Let the syrup cool, then divide in two and put the sambuca in one half, and the rum in the second half.
  4. Make the box of instant, mixing it with only 2 cups of milk instead of the 3 cups per instructions on the box.
  5. Whip the 1 cup of cream until soft peaks, then fold the whipping cream into the instant pudding.
  6. Drizzle some of the simple syrup on each layer of the cake, following by some of the pudding/whipped cream mixture.
  7. Continue with the rest of the layers, pivoting each slice so that the points are arranged in a star-like fashion.
  8. Finish by sprinkling with powdered sugar, and decorating the tips with berries.
  9. Optional, find a nice star at a craft shop for the very top.

Fried Sweet Ricotta Ravioli (Culurgioneddus Di Arrescottu)

This platter of cookies was the perfect ending to a fabulous meal at Agriturismo Sa Marighedda on our recent trip to Sardinia (recipe at the end of the post).  If you don’t know what an agriturismo is, let me explain. It’s sometimes a place to stay where the owners live, often on a working farm. It’s sometimes a place where the owners invite the public in for a meal using products grown or raised on site.

In this case, it was a restaurant next door to the owner’s home, and everything was homemade, from the cured meats, to the wine and liqueurs and everything in between. They offer a multi-course meal for a grand total of about 30 euros, or about $40.00 U.S. per person – a real bargain, especially considering the quality of the food and they even offer seconds of all the courses — if you have room in your stomach.

The owners, Mara and Roberto, work hard to deliver an authentic Sardinian meal and make you feel like  you’re sitting down to Sunday pranzo at their home. That is, if you’re in the habit of eating what seemed like non-stop courses – all of which were delicious. Families are most welcome here, and there’s even a playground for children who might feel a lightly antsy sitting at a table for two or three hours.

We were seated and immediately served a platter of homemade affettati (cured meats), olives and wine – all made in house and all wonderful.

Next came a frittata-like course, with zucchini dotting the egg and cheese mixture.

Then came savory pockets filled with seasoned raw tomatoes.  Think of tomato bruschetta, but with a flaky pastry dough instead of toasted bread.

We moved on to primo piatto, or in this case, primi piatti, since there were two first courses — one of malloreddus with sausage (see my last blog post here for the recipe),

And another of culurgiones, a typical Sardinian pasta similar to a fat ravioli, but filled with potatoes, pecorino cheese and mint.

We could easily have eaten seconds on any of these foods, but we knew there was still plenty to come, including the main event — roast suckling pig — cooked on an open spit.

Sardinia is surrounded by water and we ate fish nearly every night, but the interior of the island especially, is known for its delicious roast pig, and we were not disappointed in this juicy and flavorful rendition.

Before the main dessert arrived, we were presented with these small and juicy plums. They were just the right palate cleanser before moving to sweeter offerings.

I also wanted to show you these breads that are also traditional Sardinian shapes, using scissors and other implements to cut the dough.

Here are some of the implements Mara uses to make the breads and the cookies:

Aren’t they lovely with those scalloped, fringed edges? After they’re shaped, they get deep-fried and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

But we still weren’t finished after the cookie assortment. There was mirto (homemade blueberry liqueur) and grappa to taste. Fortunately, we didn’t have far to drive to get back to our hotel, after this abundant feast.

Thank you Mara and Roberto for your hospitality and the authentic flavor of Sardinian cuisine.

Mara was kind enough to give me her recipe for the ricotta ravioli (called culurgioneddus de arrescottu in Sardinian dialect) and you’ll find it below:

Culurgiones Di Arrescottu (Fried Ricotta Ravioli)
 
Ingredients
  • For the Filling:
  • 2.2 lbs.(1 kilo) ricotta (preferably sheep's milk)
  • 1 whole egg and one egg yolk
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1 pinch of saffron (one of those waxed sleeves you buy in Italian grocery stores)
  • grated rind of two lemons, preferably organic
  • For the dough:
  • 5½ cups 00 flour (700 grams)
  • 2¼ cups (300 grams) semolina flour
  • water, as needed
  • ½ cup sugar (100 grams)
  • 1 cup lard or vegetable shortening - (200 grams)
  • confectioner's sugar or honey, to finish
Instructions
  1. Mix all the ingredients for the filling well until it is creamy, then set aside as you prepare the dough.
  2. Mix the 00 flour, semolina, sugar and lard (or shortening) together, and add just enough water until it comes together in a ball.
  3. Roll out the dough thinly, add some of the filling along a row of the dough, closing with another layer of dough, and cutting it out with a ravioli cutter.
  4. Fry the ravioli in hot oil, drain on paper towels, and when cool, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar, or drizzle with honey.