There are so many old cookbooks that we don’t look at any more, because the photos feel outdated, or the recipes are out of touch with today’s diets and tastes. I say no thank you to Tomato Aspic or anything calling for celery flavored Jello (yes, that was a thing). I love red meat, but I have never been tempted to make head cheese, nor beef tea. I’ll have a salad, please.
But I came across this recipe for spice cake in an old McCall’s tome, which really appealed to me. I thought would work for the basis of a pear cake, and so I am sharing it with you. This recipe hearkens back to old German style pastries, where black pepper was used to lace cookies or cakes with a bit of bite (think pfeffernuss.) I upped the amount of black pepper added, as I was adding the pears, with a bit of sugar. A little more bite and a little more sweet, and voila! I created a Pear Cake with Black Pepper and Buttermilk.
Old Recipes Inspire Me
Old recipes don’t always lend themselves to our crazy, fast modern lives, but they are the only recipes I turn to for inspiration. Even though people cooked more back in the old days, they used fewer ingredients (although, this recipe doesn’t reflect that statement at all. Long ingredient list, but that’s how cakes go… like a science formula.) They used butter, lard and never called for brand name products, as there were none.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t yearn for the old days. I like my internet, and as a woman, I like voting, driving, and owning my own property. But I do enjoy reading recipes and books on food where people truly connected with what they consumed.
One of the biggest mind blowers I ever experienced in my recipe research was the notion that old time kitchens didn’t have garbage cans. Only slops for the animals, or fat residue that was recycled and used for soap or starting fires. Egg shells settled the grounds in boiling coffee. Crocks were used and reused. Old linens turned into towels, and towels turned into rags. It does sound lovely and oh-so-neat, but I will admit there is a little voice in my head gently whispering “psst…hey…food borne illness.”
Yes, I hear you.
Nonetheless, I still like my old cookbooks.
Pear Cake with Black Pepper and Buttermilk
- Prep Time: 15 min
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 12 Servings
- Category: Baking
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: USA
For poaching pears:
2 pears, ripe but still firm
4 cups of water
2 sticks whole cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 cup sifted cake flour (280 gr)
1 tsp. baking powder (4 gr)
1 tsp. baking soda (6 gr)
1 tsp. salt (4 gr)
1 tsp. cinnamon (2 gr)
1/2 tsp. ground cloves (1gr)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper (.5gr)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (57 gr)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (100 gr)
1 cup granulated sugar (200 gr)
2 tsp. vanilla extract (10ml)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (300ml)
1/2 cup powdered sugar for dusting (62 gr)
To poach the pears, cut the pears in half and remove the core with a metal spoon. Fill a small saucepan with the water, and add the cinnamon, sugar and the cut pears, placed face side down in the pan. Bring the pan to a simmer, and allow to cook for approximately 10 minutes, until the pears are tender. Remove the pears from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon, and allow to cool. Do not discard the poaching liquid.
Heat your oven to 350°F (176°C). Grease and flour a 13″ x 9″ (33 x 23 x 5 cm) rectangular pan* OR 1 12″ (30 cm) round pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt , cinnamon, cloves and pepper into a bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, blend together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combines, about 2-3 minutes.
Alternately add half cup portions of the buttermilk and flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating to combine well between each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure all is combined well.
Arrange the cut pears in the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Pour over the batter, and place the pan in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick come out clean when tested.
Remove the cake from the oven, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Remove the cake from the baking pan by inverting it onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes before serving. To finish, sprinkle over a few spoonfuls of the pear poaching liquid, and top with a dusting of powdered sugar.
*If you use a rectangular pan, you may choose to cut the pears into smaller wedges, and distribute more evenly over the bottom of the pan.
Keywords: pear cake