When you have known someone since kindergarten, and you are lucky enough to still live close to each other and enjoy each other's company as adults, the moment you are told they are pregnant is like an electric shock to your system. The buzz and the excitement hummed even then, but I never imagined how much it would affect me seeing my friend change before my very eyes, or feeling the baby kick for the first time. I can only describe the kick as feeling like my palm was inside a drum, pressed up against the top, and the baby's leg was the drumstick making contact. Human bodies are amazing. As these things go, we broke out the fancy teacups and showered her with love and other things yesterday, and I was sure glad that the Heavenly Bakers roster gave me the chance to make the Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake for the guest of honor.
Rose's inspiration for this cake came from one she had tasted on a trip to Sweden, and thin slices of pear (draped in an almond cream, aka frangipane) sink to the bottom of the bundt pan while baking, and create a dip dye of flavor and texture as they fall, so that the bottom (which, once the cake is turned out of the pan, becomes the top) becomes a fudgy almond layer that fades slowly into a tender sour cream cake. A wonderful light cake, using pears (which are in season now), but is the perfect dessert for a brunch party.
My favorite cakes, the ones I make over and over, usually have a tangy dairy ingredient involved, namely buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. Only in the last few years have I learned more about what these ingredients are doing in the batter to make the end result so good.
According to the author of BakeWise, Shirley Corriher, a baker and trained chemist (and laugh riot who uses the baking instruction "Beat the fool out of it"), acidity has three starring roles in good baking. It makes baked goods more tender, encourages browning, and makes dough easier to handle.
Praising buttermilk in particular, Corriher said "The increased acidity ensures that the egg proteins set and actually set a little sooner, producing a finer texture." For the Swedish Pear and Almond Cream cake, the dry ingredients are mixed first (Rose's two stage mixing method), the butter and sour cream are then added to the dry ingredients, and the eggs are added after that, producing a gorgeous fluffy pouf of a batter.
Also, I didn't use the full measurement of cake flour because I ran out, and made up the difference with unbleached all-purpose flour, and the crumb was still soft and fine. Go acid!
The finished batter gets placed into the fluted tube (aka bundt) pan, a little well is made in the center of the batter (all the way around) for the almond cream, and overlapping slices of pear are layered on top. When the cake came out of the oven, I was a little concerned about it being uneven, because as you can see from the below picture, the pear slices on the left side decided not to descend. My kitchen companion told me not to worry, and she is a smart one, because once the cake was turned over, it looked beautiful.
Let it be known that this cake needs no glaze or frosting to be complete, but I added a little citrus glaze to dress it up for the party. We served thin slices of this cake after brunch, and fed 20 or so. Rose's Heavenly Cakes says this recipe serves 8 to 10, but those would be 8-10 pretty generous portions, and a more realistic yield is somewhere in the middle. Unlike a wedge of dense cake swimming in sweet icing, this pear cake is far from heavy, and there would be worse fates than a thick slice of it. Just don't be discouraged from serving this at a larger party because it's a hit.
Verdict? I am very glad I made this cake, and it will reappear before pears go out of season. And the baby mama seemed to like it too, so maybe it will get delivered to the new parents when they are too tired to cook.
If you are looking for the recipe, the best place is in a copy of Rose's Heavenly Cakes, but it looks like Rose provided the recipe for Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake online to WNYC