Friday, May 9, 2014

Pear & Vanilla Brandy Cakes

Just before we get ready to greet the gorgeous apricots and cherries of May with unbridled glee, I'm making these sweet little cakes loaded with pear and a nip of brandy.  They are a simple but elegant way to end a meal or begin a celebratory Sunday brunch along with a good strong and steaming hot cup of coffee.

Pears are available throughout the year and are one of my favorite fruits.  They are subtle in flavor and texture and so delicious on their own but also bake nicely in pastry and poach beautifully as a versatile compote for ice cream, cake and shortcake.

The smell of these cakes baking is heavenly and they turn out of their ramekins nicely on the plate.  The golden caramel combined with the sumptuous pear make this very hard to resist any time of the year.  So grab a fork and relax.  This is a no brainer.

Bench notes:
- My ramekins are 4 1/2" x 2".  But use what you have, keeping in mind if the diameter of your ramekins is smaller, the cake will likely take a couple of minutes longer to bake.
- If you don't have a vanilla bean for the topping, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and add along with the brandy.
- I used D'anjou pears.  They should be ripe but not mushy.  Bartletts or ripe Boscs would also work.
- An ice cream scoop makes it easy to portion the cake batter.
- If you're in the mood to gild the lily, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of slightly sweetened and brandied whipped cream.
- The recipe could just as easily be made into one 9" cake to serve 8 people.  Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 45 - 50 minutes.

Pear & Vanilla Brandy Cakes
Makes 6 cakes

2 oz (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons (1 oz) brandy
pinch salt
2 - 3 ripe D'anjou pears

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 oz) brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease the sides of six 4 1/2" diameter x 2" depth ramekins.

To make the topping, place 2 oz butter in a saucepan.  Split and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the butter along with the casing.  Melt the butter over low heat.  Add brown sugar and cook, whisking to combine, for about 2 - 3 minutes.  Whisk in the brandy and a slight pinch of salt and remove from heat.  Remove the vanilla bean casing and distribute the topping in each of the ramekins.

Peel and core the pears and cut into 1/4" slices that will fit into your ramekins.  Arrange them on top of the sugar mixture.  Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.  Combine the brandy and vanilla with the milk.

Beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with half the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix just until blended, scraping down the bowl to incorporate everything together.  Portion the cake batter in each ramekin and spread to the edges.  Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Place the ramekins on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto serving dishes and cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


Audrey said...

Oh! I love pears, and this is a gorgeous recipe. Thank you!

Kate said...

They look awesome! Love the vanilla bean on top. Whether the lily is gilded with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, I say the flavor combo sounds over the moon.
A sweet treat... thank you.

Elly McCausland said...

These look gorgeous - so many things that I love in here! I really must start making more little cakes as opposed to big ones, they look so elegant. Beautiful recipe.

pastry studio said...

Hello, pastry lovers! These really do hit the spot for a good balance of caramelized fruit and cake. Sometimes individual cakes are a bit more fun, especially if you also like the crusty edges.

Happy spring!

Anonymous said...


I made these last night and they were phenomenal! Thank you.

pastry studio said...

Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed them. YAY pears!