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.

Edit: Giveaway closed.

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.

Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

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 Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

The fireplace is roaring in front of me; the flames dancing to a song known only to them. This ballet of intertwining colors is mesmerizing to watch. Whether I'm next to a bonfire on a cool summer's eve or watching the flames next to a frosted windowpane, I have a difficult time averting my eyes from the entrancing display of light and crackling wood.

I am home for the holidays, curled up on the couch after a long afternoon's drive. With the enchanting, yearning songs from Sufjan Steven's Christmas Album filling the silence of the room (my favorite of all holiday music), a peaceful atmosphere is set. It feels good to be home. The familiarity lends a snug, comforting quality that the white walls of my apartment simply cannot provide. This is especially true around this cold time of year, as the warmth from the twinkling white and colored lights greet me as I travel around the house.

Gingerbread Cookies Gingerbread Cookies

A few days ago it occurred to me I had never made (or eaten) gingerbread cookies. It was an abrupt realization, taking me off-guard for a moment. Certainly I've had gingerbread before, I thought to myself, searching for memories of taste or gingerbread men. I searched the corners of my childhood, but the memories never came. As a baker, it's not often that I surprise myself suddenly or so powerfully. More often than not, it feels like I've made everything, particularly as I'm sitting down and trying to imagine up new recipes to share with you.

The time was right to create new memories.

Gingerbread Cookies

I assembled the ingredients from my cupboard, brought out my stand mixer, and the gingerbread journey began. With the spice of gingersnaps and the softness of a sugar cookie in mind, I created a hybrid of the two recipes—my version of a gingerbread cookie. It seemed only fitting to create gingerbread men out of the dough, as the old folktale I had heard so long ago came to mind. The cookie cutters were already in the cupboard, used to shape men out of my family's favorite honey cookies for the holidays last year. This time, however, it seemed the cutters were following their true purpose.

Whether decorated in their best attire or left plain to enjoy straight from the oven, these gingerbread men bring a little happiness into the lives of those who devour them, one limb at a time.

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies are a holiday cut-out cookie with character. The cookies have a dark undertone, furnished from the dark brown sugar and a heavy amount of molasses. Spiced with the flavors of winter and ground ginger, the cookies are fragrant with a distinctive taste. The dough rolls out easily with the aid of a little flour. These cookies are wonderful to enjoy with family or brought to parties to share with friends.

For perfect cut-out cookies, follow this set of tips!

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