Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Pears Are Poaching

Six Christmases ago, I set out to find something a bit lighter for the holidays.  With a family as large as ours, everyone tries to share in the cooking responsibility and we each bring a dish.  This Christmas in particular, I was watching what I ate and wanted to find something that would be festive but healthy.

Since then, it has become a tradition.  Even the once reluctant now come back for seconds.  The sweet pears taste a bit more like dessert, reminiscent of apple pie, than the grainy bits you pick out of canned fruit cocktail.  

We cook for a crowd, but these last for several days.  I plan to make cheese blintzes with them, if any are left over.

12 pounds of seckel pears
3 lemons
1 bottle of moscato wine
1 1/4 cups of honey

And as many able-handed people as you can find in the house!

Note:  You don't have to use seckel pears.  We've bought them at Sam's this year under the name of "sugar pears."  I've bought all different types - the key is, you want them to be semi-firm.  The soft ones will just mush, so don't bother with them.

Juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl.

Peel, cut in half (top to bottom), and core the pears.  I use a melon baller to pop the core out and a tiny paring knife to pull out the fibrous core that runs the length of it.  As each pear is prepped, add to the bowl of lemon juice to prevent browning. 

Pour the bottle of moscato wine into a stock pot.  (Moscato is cheap.  You can find it at Trader Joe's and Sam's.  I think most grocery stores carry it as well.  If you can't find it, substitute a fruity white wine - Riesling, Gewurztraminer, etc.)

Fill the bottle back up twice with water, adding the volume to the pot as well.  (So the ratio of water to wine will be 2:1, in case you need to alter the recipe for your family's size).

To the water and wine mixture, add honey, whole cinnamon sticks, and split vanilla beans (run the tip of a sharp knife down the length of the bean - no need to scrape, it will simmer out on its own).  

Add the pears, leaving the lemon juice in the bowl.  Watch out for those pesky seeds.  Cover the pears with a circle of parchment, if you have it, laid directly on the top layer.  I have used a dinner plate that fits into the pot or a pie plate.  

Simmer until knife-tender - around 10 - 15 minutes for small pears.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl.  Turn the heat up on the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced and syrupy.  

Cool the syrup, then pour over cooked peaches.  Refrigerate up to 24 hours in advance (the longer they sit, the better they taste!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Two Step (but totally worth it) Buttermilk Coffee Cake With Cinnamon Streusel

Now that finals are over, I thought I'd sit down and type up the recipe several of you requested. For my second daughter's recent birthday, she asked for a, "coffee cake."

"Do you want a coffee-flavored cake," I asked.  "Or do you want a coffee cake like the ones at Starbucks, with the cinnamon swirl and crumbs on top?"

The birthday girl's eyes lit up.  "Both?" She grinned.

The birthday cake itself was a Bûche de Noël, with an espresso simple syrup soak, filled with whipped cream, covered in chocolate ganache, and decorated with tiny toffee bits and a tiny owl.  But, for breakfast, we had this:

Step One:

3TBSP Pamela's GF Bread Mix/Flour
3 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 tsp good cinnamon (we love Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon)
2 TBSP butter *
About a quarter cup of pecan halves (can sub other nuts or omit, but that'd be nuts!)

Add all the ingredients to the bowl of a Cuisinart.  Pulse until the nuts are broken and the butter is incorporated into the dry ingredients.  You want crumbs, not paste, so just until they're mixed.  Maybe 10 pulses.

(My four year old has this job)

*I have used Earth Balance in this, but it will change the texture of the crumb topping a bit.  It tends to be very soft, even when cold, and you have to be careful to not create a paste.  Also, yes, you can do all of this with a fork or a pastry cutter (just use chopped pecans instead of halves).  However, since this recipe is a buttermilk coffee cake, you're probably not sensitive to dairy if you're reading this.  Can you sub soured milk (with lemon juice or vinegar added to a nondairy milk)?  Sure.  But there's something magical that happens when buttermilk is used.  I promise.  I've tested it. 

Empty the contents of the food processor into a bowl and set aside.  Don't worry about washing the bowl - you're going to mix it all together in the cups anyway.

Step Two:

1 1/2 cups of Pamela's GF Flour Mix
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 1/4 tsps of baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1 beaten egg
1/2 cup buttermilk

With lingering bits of streusel topping, add all the dry ingredients into the bowl of your Cuisinart.  Pulse until you get a crumbly texture with no noticeable spots of butter.  Think pie crust.  

Open the chute and pour in the egg and buttermilk.  Process just until moistened.  This is a quick bread, like banana bread or cornbread.  It will be sticky and thick.

We like muffins, but you're free to make whatever shape your heart desires (I'm particularly fond of those individual little loaves but it was a birthday and the birthday girl wanted muffins).  You don't have to use the foil muffin liners I always recommend for cupcakes.  These coffee cake muffins don't stick like cake.  So, we had polka dot liners.  (Check etsy for fun designs!)

Now, scoop a heaping Tablespoon of dough into each cup.  Designate a preschooler or "helper" kid to add about a heaping teaspoon of the streusel on top of that.  Then, go back and add another heaping tablespoon of dough for the top of the muffin.  And, again, dust with streusel mix.  

You will now have a tender, slightly sweet cake with a ribbon of sweet cinnamon in the center and crumbs on top.  

Bake at 400° for 16 minutes or so.  Flip out onto a rack and cool slightly so you don't burn your mouth.  But, they are absolutely delicious warm!