Summer ended rather suddenly around 2 am a few weeks ago, when I was halfway through eating an indifferent peach. I looked down to find a tiny bit of the peach to be moving. I flung the worm (it wasn't half a worm, was it? Was it?) and its fuzzy sweet dwelling place in the trash. I do apologize to anyone in H entryway who woke up to very loud shrieking and forceful swearing one Tuesday night.
The nostalgia for lazy hot afternoons, juicy stone fruits, and fresh summer cooking quickly dissolved. I dared to eat no more peaches, not this season. It was suddenly time for fall, for spices and soups and the death of insects.
As someone who studies modernist literature and 20th century Europe, I've certainly spent plenty of time and paper criticizing Keats and the Romantic ideal. Yet autumn does seem to be a life-giving force here in New England, as if Boston has just woken up. The air loses its summer mugginess, the sky is a deep, unblemished blue that we see so rarely here, and trees in the Yard burst forth shockingly red foliage. The fact that the sun sets a little earlier each day and the nights dip slowly closer to below freezing only makes these last fleeting sunny days more beautiful.
This cake was originally supposed to be an upside down cake, but I decided it would look prettier frosted. The tangy sour cream frosting pairs perfectly with the sticky sweetness of the cake and its rich undertones of spice and molasses, and I need to get over my fear of frosted cakes and remember that they don't have to be huge three-layer perfectly iced productions. This one is humble and un-decorated, thrown together on a chilly fall afternoon.
Spiced Pear Cake
Yields: one 9.5-inch cake, about 8 servings
Click here for the printer-friendly recipe.
For the Cake
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole milk
3 medium ripe pears
For the Sour Cream Frosting
¼ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup full fat sour cream
½ cup powdered sugar (see notes)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9.5-inch springform pan with butter. Peel the pears, and cut into ½-inch thick slices. Set aside.
Make the cake batter. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and vanilla, followed by the eggs, one at a time.
Beat in the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and baking powder. Fold in about half of the flour, then the milk, followed by the rest of the flour. Fold in the pears.
Spread the batter into the springform cake pan, and bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool completely, then remove from the pan and place onto a serving plate.
Make the sour cream frosting. Beat the butter until light and fluffy, and beat in the sour cream, followed by the powered sugar and vanilla extract.
½ cup of powdered sugar will yield a fairly tart frosting. I think this complements the spiced cake well, but feel free to double the sugar if you prefer a sweeter frosting.