For the past week, I have been dying to try a coconut cake recipe from Let Her Bake Cake. I went out and bought desiccated coconut and almond extract as soon as I saw the recipe. And I had every intention giving the cake a whirl this weekend. However, I was thwarted by a bag of pears.
On Saturday, my boyfriend and I went to visit his grandparents, and their beautiful garden. Their front yard is home to perky pink and white asters, two-tone roses and the most delicately scented purple cyclamen. In the back, their vegetable garden is rich with staples like tomatoes and green beans. They also have a pear tree, heavy with its late summer yield. So, to unburden the tree’s branches, my bf and his grandfather picked a bag full of sweet pears – Bartlett, I think.
And being a sucker for all that is home-grown and in season, I had to incorporate those pears into a dessert. After doing a little bit of searching, I found an interesting recipe from chef Mario Batali for Torta di Pere , or Pear Tart. This very old world Italian recipe seemed like the perfect way to showcase my newly acquired pears.
The online recipe didn’t include a picture, which struck me as a little odd, especially since it was featured on the Food Network. The dessert seemed straight forward enough, pears, sugar, a bit of flour, a good helping of Grand Marnier, lemon, milk, butter, salt, baking soda and eggs. Initially, I was a bit surprised by the small proportions of sugar and butter. But the quality of a dessert should not be measured by its calorie count…at least not all the time.
So, after what seemed like hours of peeling, coring and cubing the pears, I doused them in orangey Grand Marnier. For some reason, the recipe forgot to explain what I should do with the lemon zest. I went out on a limb and threw it in with the pears.
I found that the batter was the problem child of this recipe. Despite the fact that I carefully followed each step, my creamed butter and sugar seemed to curdle when I added “one whole egg and a yolk.” After sniffing the suspect looking mixture, I decided just to keep going. After all, Mario Batali is an Iron Chef, and wouldn’t steer me wrong. As it turned out, a little flour and milk seemed to bring the batter back to life.
Problem was: there was barely enough batter to thoroughly cover the bottom, let alone the top of my spring form pan. The recipe itself did not warn of this batter deficit. I scrolled through some reader feedback on the website. Paola from Rome suggested making double the amount of batter, and reducing the pears by half. But Rafael from Florida said the proportions worked just fine for his dish. I placed my trust in Rafael.
In the end, Rafael was right. The scant amount of batter formed a perfectly crisp biscuit-type crust, with lots of room for pears to break through. The dessert is three parts pear, and one part crust. Had the pears been riper, the filling would have been sweeter and more flavourful. My version was still ok, just a bit bland. Next time, I’m going to use really ripe fruit and add extra lemon zest to the batter and filling. All in all, not a bad way to use up two and a half pounds of freshly picked fall pears!
Torta di Pere
- 2 1/2 pounds pears, cored and cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup orange flavored liqueur, like Grand Marnier
- 1 lemon, zested and grated
- 4 tablespoons butter, plus more, for greasing the pan
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, combine the pears, half the sugar, 1 tablespoon of the flour, and the Grand Marnier and mix well. I added the lemon zest to the fruit in this step.
- In a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar and butter, cream until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg and the yolk of the other egg and mix well. Sift the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the flour in halves to the sugar mixture, alternating with the milk. Set the second mixture aside to rest for 30 minutes, divided into 2 quantities, 1 being slightly larger than the other.
- Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and turn the larger quantity of batter into the cake pan. Put the pears into the pan, top with the remaining batter and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool and serve in wedges. I ended up baking the cake for an extra 10 minutes.