a stroll of genius- ginger pear cake

by hungryrabbit on November 12, 2010

Ginger Pear Cake

Since I grew up in Hong Kong eating ginger as a part of my regular diet, I never thought much about it until I encountered the root many years later in an East-meets-West concoction that made me reconsider it in a completely new way. Ginger (botanical name Zingiber officinale) is in the same family as turmeric and cardamom. It is native to Southern Asia and has long been a staple in Asian cuisines and is an important element in traditional Chinese medicine.

On a sunny, brisk Fall morning more than ten years ago, M and I had breakfast in Chinatown (congee, crullers, and veggies) and decided to stroll through Soho to get coffee. We came across a small bakery/cafe named Once Upon a Tart that looked like many other food places in Soho at the time, cozy and casual—old paint on single pane windows and mismatched wooden chairs and tables inside. The real charm, though, came from the racks of well-used professional bakeware and small mounds of tantalizing bake goods.

This was definitely a place to investigate, which meant multiple tastes to get a sense of the bakery’s offerings.  Among the haul was a Pear and Ginger Muffin. Unlike a lot of other ginger bake goods that have other spices added, this one focused on just pure ginger. The vivid heat of the root came through without any burning sensation, and the subtle sweetness of the pears was a perfect complement. The crusty top of the muffin contrasted with the tender interior. This muffin has easily stayed in my taste memory.

Recently when I was reminiscing about old favorites with friends, I thought how nice it would be having the aroma of ginger coming from the oven.  In order to capture the essence of the flavor, I used ground ginger, fresh ginger, and crystallized ginger. The cake embellishes on the original inspiration with the addition of a good amount of sliced pear on top, which I thought was missing from the muffin version. Although assembled as an upside down cake, these miniatures are baked with less time, thus the top will not be caramelized. The paleness only makes the flavor of ginger more pronounced. The use of corn syrup results in a glistening top. Try this cake for the intoxicating aroma of ginger and the sweetness of fall harvest pears—and for a departure from traditional Thanksgiving desserts.

Individual Ginger Pear Cake

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for tin
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 Bartlett or 2 Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and cut into thin wedges

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
3/4 cup buttermilk or whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4  teaspoon pure almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the giant muffin tin (six 8-ounce cups). Place 1 teaspoon butter in each muffin cup. Top each with 1 tablespoon corn syrup; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons light-brown sugar. Arrange 4-5 cranberries in each cup. Place 4-5 pear slices on top of the berries, spreading slices to cover berries. Arrange remaining berries over the pears, and set tin aside.

2. Into a small bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ginger; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat granulated sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk and ginger; beat until smooth.

3. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with buttermilk, and beginning and ending with flour. Stir in vanilla and almond extract.

4. Pour 1/3 cup batter over pear mixture in each muffin cup. Gently tap bottom of tin to evenly distribute the batter.

5. Bake cakes until golden around the edges and a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool in tin for 15 minutes.

6. Use a toothpick or plastic knife to loosen sides of cake and invert onto cooking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan Nova November 12, 2010 at 8:31 am

So happy to have met you at #fbzfest and to now visit your blog for the first time. Your work is beautiful — at the keyboard and behind the lens. I’ve added you to my reader. I don’t want to miss anymore.

Dinetonite November 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

wow! That looks Delicious.

Margaret November 12, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I wasn’t a big fan of ginger until I got older and now I’m a huge fan. This cake looks devine! Also love that you had congee for breakfast, another one of my favorite things.

Alda November 13, 2010 at 2:18 am

i didnt know you grew up in HK… I loveeeee ginger syruped on tofu fah…so good…
and so does this cake!

Lisa McBrayer November 13, 2010 at 10:42 am

I love ginger a lot and am hoping next weekend to pick fresh pears off a pear tree that’s about 75 years old! I think this recipe is calling my name!

Barbara | VinoLuciStyle November 13, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Absolutely beautiful photos Ken. Like Margaret, I wasn’t a big fan until I got older and still only like it in very subtle amounts but this looks absolutely, positively irresistibly perfect!

Cathy/ShowFoodChef November 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Oh, I can almost smell the ginger (love the name zingiber) and these are SO beautiful. I think the pear was a brilliant idea and combo. Must try.

Brian @ A Thought For Food November 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm

That first picture is drool-inducing! Seriously, I can’t handle it. I’m a sucker for anything with ginger and these cakes look perfect!

Jean November 15, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I’m the same way with ginger–grew up with it but didn’t learn to appreciate it until much later. Beautiful cakes!

Elina (Russian Bites) November 16, 2010 at 8:03 am

Hehe, looks like you’re putting that writing class at FBZ to use (great to meet you there!).
The combination of pear + ginger sounds fantastic and I love that you made individual desserts. I feel like they always seem fancier than just a regular ol’ slice + portion control is good too 😀

My Man's Belly November 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I think I might like the smell of cooking ginger more than cinnamon. So I can only imagine how wonderful your kitchen smelled while these were cooking away.

Karen at Globetrotter Diaries November 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm

These cakes look so yummy. My first time at your blog– love it!! Will be following you :)

Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris November 19, 2010 at 9:46 am

This is my idea of heaven !!! I love them!

Soma November 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

Ginger and pear is such a classic combination and it adds to the spice and the fresh flavors at the same time. Mmmmmmm, I could have a few of these little cakes.

An January 1, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I just made this last night for our New Year’s Eve party, and it was DELICIOUS. I put a lot of grated fresh ginger and it tasted so good, everyone was practically licking their plates. Thank you so much for the recipe! Happy New Year!

Susan March 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Hi Ken,
These cakes look and sound delicious. Have you ever tried making the recipe in an 8″ cake tin?

hungryrabbit March 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I have not, but I suspect it will work with longer baking time. Keep me posted.

Lena April 25, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Hi there, I’d like to try this recipe. Is the corn syrup necessary or can I substitute it for something else?

hungryrabbit April 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

Hi Lena, thanks for visiting my blog. You can probably use light brown sugar and a touch of butter. Let me know how that works out.

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