Sometime during October 1999, I was in the local, and the only, grocery store near my home-town of Newcastle, California (this supermarket is located off of I-80, on Horseshoe Bar Road, in Loomis). At the checkout counter, I spotted a Better Homes and Gardens cover featuring an appetizing walnut-pear sour cream cake. I promptly purchased the magazine, strictly for this one recipe.
That magazine has seen better days, but this pear cake remains a peerless and enticing autumn tradition for the Milligan family. I used to make it yearly; then a bout of frozen shoulder from a sports injury, during the spring of 2001, put what I thought was a temporary end to my baking this cake, along with pies. Use of the hand-held electric mixer, and the rolling of pastry dough, can be athletic events.
The truly athletic event, or “sports injury”, that put an end to my professional-domestic prestidigitation of this particular dessert, and of pies (though not of cobblers), was my walking two hounds at the same time (Bonnie and Bootsie). On the trek up the private drive of Peach Lane, just as we reached the very top of the rise, Bootsie saw a squirrel.
With startling swiftness; a whimpering, trembling, shrieking bay; and incredible canine power that overpowered his Registered Owner, Bootsie lunged to chase his prey. My right shoulder took the brunt of his muscular jerking motion to catch the tree-rat quarry (which got away).
During nearly a year of rehabbing that frozen right shoulder, I gracefully surrendered one thing of youth, the yoga Bridge pose, a move that my physical therapist asked why I’d done in the first place. Efficiency, was my reply. A fantastic stretch from the tips of the toes to the tips of the fingers. all in one, fun move! Sometimes, however, efficiency is not efficient.
I was forced to opt out of baking desserts, a ripe opportunity that — for some homemakers — would constitute a glorious chance to flee the galley! This homebody, though, really enjoys her confinement in The Kitchen. It is probably the only space, large or small, in which she consents to any degree of confinement.
Alas! And Alack! I had to yield the creation of the Pear Cake and Assorted Pies to Dear Husband. The Pink Azalea Birthday Cake of Dear Daughter did remain an annual motherly duty, complete with the therapeutic whipping of 6 egg whites. (Yes, it is a thing of beauty.)
Hubby turned out to be a terrific pastry chef, as most men typically are. He creates this pear cake to perfection. My only complaint, which is more of a statement of fact, is that his cooking style is to clean up everything — all of it — AFTER the cuisine activity. I clean as I go along, utilizing a rambling method that leads to my going wayyy off the baking-beaten path:
That set of measuring cups needs to be cleaned, so I wash the cups, by hand. And then I dry them, and use them for the bake-work;
The drawer organizer holding a slew of utensils is a dusty, crumbly, grimy mess and must be sanitized to meet my Dutch-girl standards.
This sort of cleanliness-puttering enhances my creative process which is, most ironically, for a right-dominant linear thinker, NOT linear. The free-flow nature of the productive doodling looks like an erratic, inefficient mess to Dear Husband. I can palpably sense his goal-oriented, engineering impatience!
(What the heck are you doing???)
With a completely new kitchen in my Dream House, my inspirational tinkering with the cook-tools and baking-toys has been appallingly reduced. I myself have been reduced — to cleaning, and wiping dry, stray dirty areas on the outer limits of the granite counter top.
Since Chef-Hubby is in charge of this autumn masterpiece, I asked him if he’d be willing to submit to having a photograph taken of him, mixing the marvelous batter. The answer was a resounding NO.
I therefore am fronting the image here of having put together a cake that has not involved the exertion of my connoisseur hands — for decades.
It is true that I happened upon this recipe, procured it, researched it, and achieved its earliest phases, tweaking it to its present state of scrumptiousness. I furthermore always provide the necessary, aesthetic oversight for the realization of this vintage deliciousness. And, for this writing exercise, I did edit/revise the printed-for-profit instructions of yore into a semblance of more comprehensible English, although Recipe-ese is its own grammatically-weird idiom.
I also select the plate onto which the culinary delight must be professionally placed. The Plate — I learned during those subprime-spending 2000s — is a crucial element in the final food presentation.
“Plating” is a concept I’d not even heard about, much less considered a vital part of being a cook/chef. Methinks the self-indulgent coulis-decoration is to distract from an otherwise ho-hum and under-sized restaurant ration pretentiously proffered to the hungry mouth at a confiscatory price.
Art used to be for art’s sake, not to divert attention from the puny portion for a desperate palette. Those squiggles of sauce on the bare white porcelain form a highly decisive factor in any kitchen contest.
I don’t cook for contests or prizes or winning ribbons or shimmying with décolletage to first place. I cook to provide good nutrition and delicious flavorful fare to whoever sits at my table. A sure sign that you’ve succeeded in that essential and noble endeavour is a complete lack of conversation once you’ve served the food to your guests. Everyone is too busy eating to chat or talk!
The luscious tastes of autumn begin with “buttery fall pears, chunky walnuts, and sour cream.” Those ingredients are region- and time-specific, so this dessert may vary in its actual date of attainment; but the ultimate product is worth the effort, regardless of when this cake becomes the occasion.
This prep-work is very bowl-intensive: FOUR BOWLS are needed. The ingredients have therefore been engineer-line-divided into contents for each bowl of varying size. The designations of wet-and-dry-teams don’t apply to this culinary formula.
WALNUT-PEAR SOUR CREAM CAKE
1 cup broken walnuts
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 2 cups)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 8-oz carton dairy sour cream
1/2 cup broken walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Combine the 1 cup nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon. For topping, cut the 1/4 cup butter into 1/3 cup flour to make coarse crumbs. Stir in 3/4 cup of the nut mixture. Set nut mixture and topping aside.
Toss pears with lemon juice in a bowl; set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the 1-3/4 cups flour; the baking powder, baking soda, and the salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with electric mixer for 30 seconds. Beat in the granulated sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and sour cream, alternately, to batter. Beat on low speed after each addition until combined.
Spread one-half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with reserved nut mixture. Layer pears over top of batter. Gently spread remaining batter over pears. Sprinkle with reserved topping. For a chunky top, sprinkle with 1/2 cup more nuts.
Bake 55-60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of springform pan. Cool at least 1 hour. **Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired. Supposedly Serves 12.
**I don’t serve this cake warm. I usually cover it and wait a day for the flavors to blend, then serve with good, hot coffee for the initial refreshment. On successive days, this dessert makes a sensational slice during afternoon tea, with a Yorkshire cuppa; or as a hefty breakfast cake.
The current candy-situation in the USA is not what I’d call yummy or delicious or even “affordable”. I’ve therefore decided to let myself eat cake for Halloween. It’s becoming a holiday tradition in my nation for the tricks to grossly outnumber the treats!