Sunday, November 20, 2011

Marcella Hazan's Pear Cake



The days are melting away quickly. I can see them go from the window near my desk, the light drip drip dripping down the skyline. This begins at 5, at 4, now at 3:30 I have to flip on my lamp. I love the approach of winter. Suddenly the air smells of sweet, sudden cold, of braised beef, of apple cider spiked with rum. But I miss the light. Especially now that I’m working in an office, bound to a desk. At least I sit by a window, where I can watch the light fade against the pattering, frozen rain.

This week is Thanksgiving. And then it’s my birthday. I turn 29. The punctuation mark to my twenties. The end of a beginning. The beginning of an end. I don’t think I’ll miss this decade. It’s been exciting and full. But I’m tired. I’d like to sink into my life in a way that doesn’t constantly hurt. Hurt? No. I suppose I like the movement. I like the excitement and the growth. I guess what I want is someone to invent a new brand of makeup, one that will prevent the handful of people who come to hear me talk about my book from asking if I’m fourteen. You’re not? Oh, well then are you married? No? You should eat more. You’re skin and bones.


Writing a book—a memoir—has been an empowering experience. A vulnerable one, too. Two weeks ago I was in Detroit for a book fair, and then New York City to speak at the PublicLibrary. Last week I was in St. Louis for another book fair, and I did an event with the New England Culinary Guild. I love talking about my book, about the sense of smell. These events fill me with energy, make me thankful to be alive. They also make me think about my life in a very direct manner. Why are you not a chef? I’m often asked. The questions that follow range from small (What did you eat for breakfast?) to large (How did you fall in love?). There are questions about my loss of scent (Why did you recover?), many of them coming from those with something at stake (How can I recover, too?). We often circle around to the questions I likewise ask myself: Will you write another book? What will it be about? The answers are there, but not always as cut and dry as I’d like. Isn’t that always the case?

I’ve been behind on the blog. I know and I’m sorry. I meant to be better. I was doing so well for a while. But we all know how life gets in the way. How work gets in the way. How sometimes maintaining sanity and health alongside a crazy schedule can be impossible. How sometimes I wonder how I’m maintaining anything at all.


But here is something great. A pear cake. From Marcella Hazan.

I found this recipe in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I made the cake a number of weeks ago for the first time. I brought it to a party where it really didn’t belong. Standing next to elaborate chocolate mousse tarts and finely wrought cupcakes garnished in candied orange peel, this little cake paled, shrinking against the wall like that flower we’re always talking about, the one I embodied when I was in high school. But, hey, this cake is good. Really good. It is that cut and dry.

Marcella’s pear cake is simple. The batter consists of eggs, whole milk, sugar, flour, and a pinch of salt. After peeling and slicing 2 pounds of pears, you add them right to the mix, and pour the batter into a pan. Before it goes in the oven, you dot the top with some butter, which coats and sizzles and helps to provide a nice browned crust. Because the ingredients are so simple, the flavor of this cake really comes from the pears. As it should.


Marcella’s Pear Cake

This cake is a lovely dessert, the punctuation mark to a simple meal. It’s also great for breakfast, a big wedge sliced in the lingering darkness of an almost-winter morning. I’d eat it pretty much any time, though.

½ cup breadcrumbs, fine and dry
2 large eggs
¼ cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 pounds Bosc pears, ripe
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Place a rack on the upper third of the oven, and then preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, add the bread crumbs to the pan and swirl it to distribute the crumbs evenly. Give it a little shake and turn upside down to release the extra loose crumbs.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and milk. Add the sugar and salt. Beat until well combined. Add the flour and mix well.

Peel the pears, and then slice them in half. Remove and discard the seeds. Cut the pear halves into thin slices, and then add them to the bowl. Mix well. (The batter will be quite thick.)

Now, pour the batter into the pan. Make sure it’s evenly spread. Dot the surface of the batter with the butter. Bake for 45 minutes. The top will be golden brown. Cool slightly and then remove from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.


10 comments:

Miss T said...

It used to drive me crazy when people said "things get better with age" but now Im one of those people. Although I still feel like a ridiculous 16 year old in my head, there is a sense of wisdom and knowledge there too. Embrace it and know that things start to get great right about now! Despite your heartache and recovery - look how much you have achieved! you should be disgustingly proud of yourself.
Bravo!
T x

Megan said...

I didn't think that cake paled at all. I thought it held a stunning amount of true pear flavor. I loved it.

P.S. If someone does invent that makeup, you'll tell me right?

Molly said...

Hope you have a wonderful birthday, Molly.

And trust me, in about five years, you will want to kiss the bouncer who id's you.

molly said...

Welcome back, Molly, and thank you so for bringing cake. This cake, in particular. I happen to have eight pounds (!) of beautiful pears, ripening quickly. We're eating them out of both hands, daily, but will surely have spares. I think their fate has been determined.

Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Molly said...

Miss T: Thank you, thank you! I am a firm believer in the fact that things get better with age. 29 will be nice, but what I'm really looking forward to is 30 :)

Megan: Hurrah! I'm glad. And, yes, when I find this magical elixir of age-inducing makeup, I'll send out a memo ASAP.

Molly: Thanks!

Molly: (So many Mollys here today! I love it.) Eight pounds of pears! That sounds lovely. This cake would make a great home for a few...

J said...

Happy Birthday, Molly! My birthdays make me a bit pensive, these days, too.

Isn't it empowering to know that, even when you wonder how you maintain anything at all, something like that pear cake can seemingly make itself in your kitchen?

I wouldn't apologize: your creativity is something to take pride in, no matter how often you update. We're just happy to read about it!

Molly said...

Thanks, J. This pear cake is magical... able to pretty much make itself. No need to maintain a thing.

Sharon said...

Happy Birthday Molly. I understand too well the competing priorities on our time when updating a blog is the last thing you can squeeze in. I just updated mine after almost 2 weeks!

You're doing great. 29 is a great place to be. On the brink of even better times to come!

Hope your Thanksgiving is full of wonderful scents.

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

This cake sounds perfect. Must-make kind of perfect. Happy birthday, Molly!

Pia said...

yes, it's certainly the light that i miss the most in winter. sometimes, i think the smell of a cake baking in the oven might be the only way to make up for months of dusk-like days.

lovely post, molly. and a (very) belated 29th.