At the moment, I’m up to my elbows in gingerbread, multi-hued royal icing and various bits of tiny brightly colored candies that more often than not end up on the floor. I’ve got a massive gingerbread village due in a few weeks, a wedding cake to deliver the Saturday after Thanksgiving and haven’t even begun to think about starting my annual holiday cooking baking extravaganza. Oh, and somewhere in there I’m supposed to be working. Needless to say, there’s a lot happening around here yet the other day, I got the urge to take a break and make something simple. So I did. Sometimes you just have to step back, inhale deeply and relax for a moment to help put things into perspective. Stress Baking at it’s finest, folks.
I tend to save random thoughts, recipes and things I find interesting in a file on my laptop. It may be new ideas, recipes I’ve tried that need further work or an old favorite that needs revisiting. Needing some inspiration, I took a look at that long neglected file. A while back when the beloved Gourmet Magazine went under, I quickly trolled their website with the thought that it might disappear as well. I saved a recipe titled “Buttermilk Pudding Cake” because it sounded so interesting and delicious. I adore pudding cakes and buttermilk. I love how the technique is usually a little wacky – mix up an easy batter then pour some hot liquid on top and bake. Something magical happens in the oven where the two layers separate into a creamy pudding like bottom and a firm cakey top. Surprise and delight, I tell you.
Yet this one was a little different in that it didn’t have the hot liquid step but I went ahead and made it anyway. What came out of the oven was a beautiful golden … sponge. The two distinctive layers that I think of as a requirement for a pudding cake were non-existent. Don’t get me wrong it was good – eggy and tender – but it reminded me more of a baked custard or even a Dutch baby pancake type of thing. Pudding cake, not so much.
So I made it again, twice actually, changing the ratios and essentially the entire recipe. I decided to take it in another direction instead – a spoonbread rather than a pudding cake – and what I came up with is perfect for these chilly fall days. There’s a slight buttermilk tang, a hint of sweetness from maple syrup and then to really gild the lily, I sautéed a few ripe pears in butter and some more maple syrup.
A quick note on the seasoning – I’ve become rather enamored with pumpkin pie spice lately likely due to the fact that for unknown reasons, I have two jars in my spice drawer and am low on cinnamon. I’m not sure how this happened but it did. It’s generally a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. If you have it, by all means use it because frankly, you don’t get many opportunities to do so. If you don’t have any, feel free to substitute cinnamon and perhaps a few gratings of fresh nutmeg. No worries, the dish will be lovely either way.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: A NICE WARM HUG. This is something you eat out of a big bowl in front of the fire with a dog at your feet. I don’t have either but the couch and a fuzzy blanket were fine stand-ins. This dish is warm and cozy and utterly delicious, even more so if you drizzle just a little bit of heavy cream on top. Make this for someone who’s feeling a bit blue – maybe they’re having a rough time adjusting to daylight savings time or are sad they missed the Real Housewives of New Jersey two-part reunion show (don’t worry it’s on 526 more times and is a whole lotta crazy.) This will make them feel better about a lot of things (that and the fact that they’re not a whole lotta crazy like those broads.)
MAPLE BUTTERMILK SPOONBREAD WITH MAPLE GLAZED PEARS
For the spoon bread:
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or ground cinnamon)
1 1/3 cups well-shaken buttermilk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, separated
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup sugar
for the pears:
4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and each cut into 8 pieces
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or ground cinnamon)
good pinch of kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 1 ½ quart shallow baking dish and put a pot or kettle of water on to boil.
- For the spoon bread: Whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon) and salt in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, cooled melted butter, 3 egg yolks, maple syrup and brown sugar.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and lightly whisk until just combined.
- Beat the 3 egg whites with an electric mixer at medium speed until foamy.
- Increase the speed to medium-high and add the ¼ cup sugar in a slow steady stream, beating until whites just hold stiff peaks.
- Stir about one third of whites into the batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly until no white streaks remain.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and place in a large roasting pan or deep pan large and deep enough to hold the baking dish.
- Place the roasting pan in the oven then carefully pour the boiling water about ½ way up the side of the baking dish.
- Bake until puffed and golden-brown, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly, 10-15 minutes; serve warm or at room temperature.
- For the pears: in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter until foamy.
- Add the maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon) and cook for a minute or two until thick and syrupy.
- Add the pears cut side down and allow to cook, without disturbing, for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. You may want to shake the pan occasionally but do not stir.
- Turn the pears and do the same on the other side until they are golden brown and release some of their juices.
- Serve the pears with the spoonbread warm or at room temperature.