Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf

The holiday season has arrived, with lights glowing and bells jingling. I spent the week of Thanksgiving visiting family, enjoying the food, and spending time in each other's company. It felt wonderful to get away from the everyday for awhile, to refresh and unwind in a familiar presence. Now that I am back home, I am finding it difficult to fall back into the daily routine (and even harder to wake up to the morning alarm). However, the excitement of the holiday season is in the air—on television, in stores, and on the faces of my students—which keeps the energy high. 

I haven't caught the holiday spirit yet, but I imagine spending more time in the kitchen baking up holiday classics will make the spirit easier to find.

The holiday season is one of my favorites for baking. While there will always be the traditional foods (like Grandma's Honey Cookies), I like to use the holidays as an excuse to try new ideas. When Wolf Gourmet asked me to test their countertop oven, it felt like permission to play in the kitchen. I currently live in a small, one bedroom apartment, where space comes at a premium. I initially thought I would store the countertop oven in the closet when it wasn't in use, but I use it so often now that it found a permanent place in my kitchen.

This countertop oven is great for baking, but I use it just as often to heat up a quick dinner. It takes much less time to heat up (and is much more energy efficient than my current standard conduction oven). The countertop oven also has a "Proof" setting, which is a low-temperature setting that helps yeast dough rise faster than it would at room temperature. I have tried to mimic this setting in my standard oven without success, so my yeast doughs—whether pizza or bread—find their way in the countertop oven too. 

My favorite oven setting by far is convection. The convection setting circulates the air in the oven, which provides more uniform heating and reduces baking time up to twenty-five percent over a standard conduction oven. When I first made this Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf, the loaf cake baked in 40 minutes instead of the usual 55 minutes. The convection setting also allows the food to bake more evenly, which means that my loaf cake was tender all the way through (my standard conduction oven tends to overbake the outside before the inside is done).

The countertop oven is relatively small (after all, it does fit on the countertop), which limits what you can fit inside. It will not fit half sheet pans or a few of my unusually shaped pans, but it will fit a standard 9 x 13-inch pan, which accomodates most dishes or desserts you will bake. The standard kitchen oven is not replaced, but the countertop oven can complement your current oven, especially during the holiday season when having more than one oven for baking or entertaining is ideal.

Ultimately, high quality and performance make a significant difference when baking with a countertop oven. Wolf Gourmet delivers this quality and performance. Wolf Gourmet is generously giving away one countertop oven to a Pastry Affair reader! To enter the giveaway, 

  1. Leave a comment below and share your favorite holiday desserts (we can all use more delicious ideas!). When you post your comment, privately include your email address on the form so I can reach you. 
  2. The giveaway is open to anyone 18 years of age or older with a valid U.S. shipping address (no P.O. boxes please). 
  3. The contest will end on Thursday, December 8th at 11:59 pm (CST). The winner will be chosen randomly and have 24 hours to respond and confirm their shipping address, or a new winner will be selected.

Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf is a cake with sophisticated flavors. Pears are poached in spices and white wine, rendering them soft and sweet. The poached pears are placed in a loaf pan and surrounded with gingerbread cake batter. The gingerbread is made with fresh ginger, which lends a bold, spiced profile to the cake. The pears bake up beautifully in the loaf cake, adding a soft contrast to the strong flavors of the cake. Drizzle each slice with white wine syrup before serving.

Two Years Ago: Almond Espresso Cookies
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Streusel Muffins & Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Four Years Ago: Gingerbread Muffins, Persimmon Cake, Lemon Cranberry Scones, & Chocolate Pomegranate Tart
Five Years Ago: Pumpkin Chocolate Granola Bars, Banana Cocoa SmoothiePumpkin Panna Cotta, & Honey Cookies
Six Years Ago: Sugar-Coated Daydreams, Blueberry Brownies, & Pear Chips

Poached Pear Gingerbread Cake

Yields 1 loaf

Poached Pears
3 Bosc or Bartlett pears, peeled with stems left on
1 bottle (750 mL) white wine
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 mL) water
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and seeds scraped
Peel from 1/2 an orange
3 cinnamon sticks

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until a knife easily pierces the pears. Remove pears and set aside.

Run remaining liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove solids and continue to simmer the liquid until it thickens into a syrup that can coat the back of a spoon, about 45 minutes.

Gingerbread Loaf Cake
1/2 cup (120 mL) dark molasses
2/3 cup (140 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (170 mL) milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a 10 x 4-inch loaf pan with parchment (it helps to transfer the loaf after baking), grease lightly, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the molasses, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Alternately, fold in the flour and stir in the milk until uniform. 

Place poached pears in prepared pan and spoon gingerbread batter around the pears. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before using parchment to transfer loaf to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To serve, dust loaf with powdered sugar and drizzle each slice with poached pear syrup.

Disclosure: A complimentary countertop oven was provided for review by Wolf Gourmet. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Chocolate Gingersnap Tart

Snow fell from the sky in thick, heavy flakes as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon. I watched the world turn white from my couch, sipping a glass of wine while sifting through the mess of a craft project spread over the coffee table. I was ready for the change, ready to embrace the shift towards slow living that comes with the winter season. The cold weather feels like permission to stay indoors, wrapped in blankets and chunky sweaters, granting time to catch up on the quiet lifestyle that was put on the shelf when the snow melted in the spring. 

Winter is the season of recovery—an interval between life cycles—a pause for reflection and connection.

The light changes in winter, reflecting and refracting off the snow and ice, infusing the world with cool tones and sharp lines. Winter flavors echo the qualities of the diffuse light, a continued expression of the season. While autumn flavors are an indulgence in comfort and warmth, winter flavors bring a sharpness, an edge that cuts through the complacency, a reminder that the season has changed.

This Chocolate Gingerbread Tart feels like the bridge between the seasons, a transitional dessert. The smooth chocolate filling is sweetened and spiced with cinnamon, but the sharp bite of ginger cuts through it, bringing contrast to the dessert.

Bake this dessert and share it with your loved ones over the holiday season, finding connection in each other's company.

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This Chocolate Gingersnap Tart is a decadent holiday dessert that is perfect for sharing. A gingersnap crust is filled with a rich chocolate filling and baked until the chocolate sets into a thick custard. The filling is silky and smooth, standing in stark contrast to the crisp, spiced crust. Use whichever type of chocolate you prefer—milk, semisweet, or dark—but take care to use a high quality brand. The tart itself is simple and quick to prepare; a small slice will go a long way.

One Year Ago: Pear Spiced Sangria
Two Years Ago: Glazed Chocolate Cake Doughnuts
Three Years Ago: Stovetop Popcorn & Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze
Four Years Ago: Chai Pear Scones, Hot Bourbon Apple Cider, Pumpkin Pie Espresso Bars, & Maple Roasted Chickpeas
Five Years Ago: Cranberry Orange Brioche Rolls, Cranberry Sauce, & Cranberry White Chocolate Tarts
Six Years Ago: "Please, Sir, Can I Have S'more?" Cupcakes & Chocolate Espresso Pots de Creme

Chocolate Gingersnap Tart
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

Yields 10-12 servings

Gingersnap Crust 
8 ounces (about 32 cookies or 230 grams) gingersnap cookies, processed into crumbs
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (57 grams) butter, melted

Chocolate Filling
3/4 cup (180 mL) heavy cream
3/4 cup (180 mL) whole milk
10 ounces (280 grams) semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, whisked

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C).

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the gingersnap crumbs, cinnamon, and melted butter until evenly coated. Press mixture into a 9-inch tart pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove from heat and keep oven on.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cream and milk. Warm over medium-low heat. Add in chocolate and stir until chocolate has melted and is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly add whisked eggs and stir until smooth.

Pour chocolate filling into baked gingersnap crust. Bake an additional 15-20 minutes, or until chocolate filling is set and does not move when the pan is lightly shaken. Cool to room temperature before cutting and serving. Lightly dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones

I opened my first can of pumpkin earlier this week. This annual event may be arriving too late in the season for some (especially you, PSL lovers), but the pumpkin and spices are finally starting to feel right for me. After a rough start to the season, I am focused back on the present, living moment by moment in the ups and downs of daily life.

The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year, supporting short-sleeved shirts instead of winter jackets, and long walks on paved park paths instead of treks through ankle-deep snow drifts. While I would normally be snuggling up on the couch and settling in for the long, cold months, I have been out and about instead, enjoying the respite from winter and enjoying the extended autumn warmth. I may be late to the pumpkin party this year, but I believe it's better to show up late than to never arrive. 

During the holiday season, I like to keep a few scones in the freezer for unexpected moments—when a guest drops by without warning or an unforeseen event pops up on the calendar. The scones can be frozen once shaped and sugar sprinkled. When the unexpected moment arrives, remove the scones from the freezer and bake in a preheated oven. The frozen scones may take a minute or two longer in the oven to bake, but the finished pastries make the wait worthwhile.

I suggest making a double batch: half to eat now and half to freeze for later. There is plenty of scone love to go around.

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones deliver classic autumn flavors in a warm, tender pastry for breakfast or an afternoon snack. The pumpkin scones are spiced and sweetened with brown sugar. Before baking, the scones are sprinkled with raw sugar to give the top of the scones a nice crunch. The maple glaze is optional, but it adds an extra level of sweetness and dimension of flavor which finishes off the scones just right.

One Year Ago: Caramel Apple Crumble Pie, & Rosemary Olive Bread
Two Years Ago: Maple Syrup Cake, & Pumpkin Pie (Dairy Free)
Three Years Ago: Butternut Squash Biscuits, Apple Crisp, & Pumpkin Spiced Doughnuts
Four Years Ago: Pumpkin Rolls, Butternut Squash Cake, Baked Apples, Filled Molasses Cookies, & Marbled Squash Bread
Five Years Ago: Grandma's Applesauce, Honey Cinnamon Chickpeas, Caramel Apple Tart, & Banana Espresso Muffins
Six Years Ago: Apple Chips, Fresh Ginger Pear Cake, Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal, & Raspberry Vanilla Bean Creme Brulée

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones

Yields 8 scones

Pumpkin Scone
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, cubed
1/2 cup (126 grams) canned pumpkin (or pumpkin purée)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream, plus extra for brushing
Raw sugar (turbinado or demerara sugar) for sprinkling, optional

Maple Glaze
1/2 cup (55 grams) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon milk

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, spices, and salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender (or your hands) until mixture resembles coarse sand. Set aside.

In a small bowl, beat together canned pumpkin, egg, vanilla, and heavy cream. Pour over the scone batter and lightly mix until the dough comes together. The dough will be relatively sticky.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a circle and flatten it until it is about 1-inch thick. Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, cut 8 equal pie wedges. Transfer scones to a baking sheet using a flat spatula dipped in flour. Place in freezer for 1/2 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

Brush top of scones with heavy cream and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

To make the glaze, stir together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, and milk. If too thick, add additional milk by the 1/2 teaspoon until the glaze drizzles in a continuous stream off the edge of a spoon. Drizzle glaze over cooled scones and allow glaze to set for 15 minutes before serving.