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Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

It was the end of summer. I sat on top of a suitcase, using my weight to close it an extra inch so I could draw the zipper closed. Brushing myself off, I stood back and surveyed my handiwork. Three suitcases lay side-by-side, holding all of my material possessions within their zippered walls. I was moving the next morning, fifteen hundred miles and a country away, going to Montreal for graduate school. This wasn't my first time leaving home, but it was my first time leaving everyone and everything I knew behind. As excited as I was, it was difficult to say goodbye.

For the first few weeks, I fumbled around as a non-French speaker in a French city, learning to read foreign signs and labels and trying to collect enough language to make it through a cash register exchange. As much as I was falling in love with the city and culture, there was still a part of me that ached for the familiarity of my old life. Growing up, the kitchen was where family and friends converged, exchanging stories over warm cookies and cold milk. I especially missed this gathering place.

Before the move, I had begun learning how to bake. It felt natural to continue that quest as I adjusted to my new life, so I began spending more time in the kitchen, finding a little of the familiarity I had been longing for.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

When I first learned the basics of cooking, my mother would get phone calls from me daily, asking questions about everything from cooking chicken to beating egg whites for meringue. Living so far from her now meant that my mother was no longer a simple call away. When I ran into kitchen trouble, I was on my own. Despite this, our past conversations hovered in the air, her wealth of knowledge in my memory and her voice echoing in my mind. As I cooked dinner, she reminded me of the ratios for cooking rice and how to make toast without a toaster. Though she didn’t know it, my mother continued to guide me through the kitchen, stubbornly refusing to let me forget everything she had taught me over the years.

Lessons from my grandmother soon followed in my tiny kitchen. Her voice revealed that coffee brought out the flavor of chocolate and reminded me that butter made everything better. Her gnarled hands showed me how to knead bread as I struggled with my first ventures into yeast. I remembered watching her cook, sprinkling salt into her palm to finish off a dish and throwing the rest over her shoulder. Though I felt awkward about it, I followed her practiced motions, feeling as though there must be a greater reason for it. I couldn’t quite see the purpose, though; I envisioned my feet tracking salt over the rest of the apartment and me having to clean it up later. Perhaps there were some kitchen tricks I could do without after all.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

Re-runs of Julia Child’s cooking shows found their way into my apartment and I watched as she whisked up omelets and stewed Boeuf Bourguignon. Though she didn’t teach me how to cook, she did teach me that a little clumsiness and awkwardness in the kitchen was perfectly acceptable. After dropping two frosted cakes and a pitcher of blended margaritas onto the floor (the latter of which I’m still not ready to talk about), the solidarity I had with Julia made scraping the frosting off the floor more bearable. I imagined Julia whispering that if I quickly picked up the cake and placed it back on the stand no one would notice. Even though Julia was quite wrong—my crime was painfully obvious—putting it back on the stand did make it easier to eat with a fork.

Several months after I moved, during a quiet autumn afternoon, my mother came to visit. The morning before she arrived I set out to make her a welcoming cake. I had just finished paging through a food memoir and a recipe for gingerbread with caramelized pears caught my eye. Though I had never worked with fresh ginger or caramel, Julia’s fearless attitude and my grandmother’s voice guided me in using fresh spices and creating the perfect caramel without a candy thermometer.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

When my travel-weary mother stepped into my kitchen for the first time, I dusted off my apron and welcomed her into my new home. I made tea and sliced the cake. We spent the next few hours catching up over warm pastries and caramel—the perfect therapy for a mother and daughter who had missed each other.

The experience of my grandmother, the guidance from my mother and the wit of Julia Child taught me how to bake (and reminded me never to take food too seriously). Even though there was only one set of hands working in my small kitchen, a chorus of voices filled the air, directing me along my course. The wisdom from these women in my life was a simple reminder that even in an unfamiliar place, I was never truly alone in the kitchen.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Pear Caramel Sauce is a cozy treat to enjoy on frosted nights. The flavors of fresh ginger and molasses harmonize together in this dark, spiced cake. The addition of sour cream and a handful of spices lend a rich moistness to the cake while rounding out the flavor. Just before serving, the cake is glazed with a pear caramel sauce to add the right touch of sweetness. The caramel is made from a pear juice reduction—eliminating the need for a candy thermometer—making this cake as easy to prepare as it is to devour.

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Gingerbread Bundt Cake

Yields 1 bundt cake

1 cup (240 ml) dark molasses
1 cup (200 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream
1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the molasses, brown sugar, and melted butter. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream and buttermilk until uniform. Stir in the baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Fold in the flour until just incorporated.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Pear Caramel Glaze

Yields about 1 1/2 cups

2 cups (475 ml) pear cider or pear juice
2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (200 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, bring the pear cider to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and continue to simmer at a light boil for 20-30 minutes, or until the juice is reduced to about 1/3 cup. The juice will be thick and syrupy.

Add the butter and dark brown sugar, stirring until melted and dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream, spices, and salt. If the caramel appears too thin, continue simmering for another 5 minutes or until the caramel thickens (keep in mind, however, that the caramel will continue to thicken as it cools). If caramel is too thick, it can be thinned with a tablespoon or two of pear cider. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Drizzle the pear caramel sauce over the cooled gingerbread cake just before serving.

Reader Comments (22)

That sauce is seriously calling my name! GORGEOUS cake!!
I just wanted to say that I loved reading this very personal and heart warming account of why this cake is special to you and how you learnt to cook. What a great read, you truly know how to bring a story to life! :)
11.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLoula
I love bundt cakes. So simple to make but also such an impressive dessert!
A beautiful post and such a beautiful cake. I've had my fair share of kitchen disasters, but if anything it's spurred me on and given me something to laugh about and just becomes another memory/anecdote to add to the story that is my life :)
This is a beautiful story, you had some great influences on your cooking.
Wow. Everything from your mouth-watering photography to your phenomenal writing completely transported me to your kitchen in Montreal. I felt like I was another presence there, watching and silently rooting for you! Being away at college right now, I definitely understand what you went through.
Simply AMAZING post, and I can't wait to try the recipe!
I'm home for Thanksgiving break, and today I'm actually making your cinnamon raisin swirl bread! Gotta love the classics.
Beautiful story and lovely recipe.
11.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKier
Such a beautiful story.. I felt like I was right there with you. This cake is just as beautiful with an incredible combination of flavors.
11.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterErika
Hi Kristin, I have a little request... I have no idea if it's easy or not to set up a "save" button to add recipes to ziplist... I've been able to find quite a few of your recipes but some don't seem to appear... This one for instance ! Any chance you could add that magic button ?
Beautiful pictures and delicious recipes, as usual. Thank you !
11.25.2013 | Unregistered Commenterana
This is the sweetest story. Thank you for sharing - and I love that quote about never cooking alone. As a child, Mom let me help her bake cookies, and we'd make up stories about the ingredients. The sticks of butter - always first in the bowl - were mountain peaks, and the white sugar that came next was snow falling in the mountains. There isn't a batch of cookies that goes by without me thinking of, and treasuring, those memories.

Love your blog!
11.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Such beautiful photos and a beautiful post! Plus that cake looks seriously good :)
What a great bundt, I love fresh ginger in a cake. I will have to make this cake. Love your story about cooking, I was also shown what to do by my mother at a very young age.
11.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLynda
I love bundt cakes - they also make impressive gifts. I just hope that pear juice is available at our local supermarkets. Thanks for sharing.
11.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarol Poluan
I loved reading the story behind this cake. Your tale reminded me of when I first started cooking and also calling my mother constantly for advice - such a warming memory to look back on. : ]
this looks divine. do you think swapping sour cream for yogurt would be ok?
11.29.2013 | Unregistered Commenterfrancesca
Francesca-- I think it will work just fine!
11.30.2013 | Registered CommenterKristin Rosenau
This looks divine. Black pepper is an interesting addition - I haven't seen it in a cake before. Definitely going to try it out! Thanks for the inspiring story and recipe that came with it, as always.
11.30.2013 | Unregistered CommenterElsa
A really lovely site to visit. Keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to trying your recipe even though we're going into a hot hot summer here in Australia.
12.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLyndsay
What a lovely story! I came here for a good recipe and you just made my heart soar with this wonderful story of family, tradition, and the warmhearted natured of baking/cooking. I'm making this cake tonight (my first bundt cake!) for a neighbor's party. Can't wait to try it! Thanks for the story and the recipe.
12.7.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
Sometimes taking crazy risks really pay off! Good for you for moving so far away. This cake looks amazing. The pear caramel is very unique and yummy!
12.10.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Dembowski
How perfect for a cold day, and I like the idea of this bundt as a gift. nice spice combo too. I have taken to adding tumeric in just about added a sprinkle.......I layered into the bottom of the bundt pan, a few pecans and pepitas and dark chocolate carved from a huge bar I always have on hand. Its baking right now! I am going for a brisk walk and cannot wait for the wafting aroma to greet my return. Had I discovered Montreal before I turned 50 I may have moved. Beautiful city! Thankyou for your lovely blog. Such an inspiration.
Such a lovely story to accompany a lovely cake!

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