Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote

As our days stretch longer and the first signs of crocus and chives finally appear in the garden I find myself in the mood for cake. This is hard to explain since cake is not often on my list of cravings; however, the same phenomenon occurred last year so it must be the coming of spring! When I saw this recipe for a buttermilk spice cake with pear compote in Bon Appetite I immediately folded down the page. A simple spice cake, fragrant from star anise and topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and warm pears, it sounded spectacular.

A weekend visit from my mother was the perfect reason to bake a cake, so I pulled out my mixer and went to work. The cake was simple to create, requiring only about an hour from start to finish (including the 30 minute cooking time).

Making the Buttermilk Spice Cakes

Once baked you have a humble round cake that only needs a light dusting of powdered sugar before serving. The pear sauce comes together while the cake is baking melding into lightly sweetened fruit compote. Mixing black pepper, ginger, allspice, and star anise creates a wonderful background note of warm spice which made the cake interesting without stealing the show and overpowering the pears. On the plate all three elements- cake, pear compote, and crème fraîche, blend together into a supremely satisfying dessert. The flavor deepens on the second day, making a leftover slice the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee or a finale to your weeknight dinner. I would make it to share with guests or even just for one; this is humble comfort food at its best- warm, soft, creamy and sweet.

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote and Crème Fraîche (Printable Recipe)
Minimally Adapted from Bon Appetite, March 2010, Recipe by Daniel Patterson
Serves 8-10

Pear Compote
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Large pinch of salt
3 Bosc pears (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Buttermilk Spice Cake
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch (yes this seems unusual, but it works)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground whole star anise*
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
3/4 cup buttermilk
Powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups crème fraîche

9 inch cake pan with 2 inch sides


Pear Compote
Place a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix in the sugar, lim
e juice, and salt, stirring until the sugar is beginning to liquefy. Add the pears to the pan and stir to coat them with the sugar mixture. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pears are just tender. Pour the pear mixture into a heat-proof bowl, cover and chill until ready to use. (You can make the pears up to 24 hours ahead of time.)

Buttermilk Spice Cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle. Butter and flour the cake pan. Using the exterior bottom of the pan as your guide, trace a circle to match the pan diameter on parchment paper. Cut out the circle and trim if necessary until it fits tightly inside the bottom of the cake pan. Place the parchment round inside the cake pan.

Using a medium size bowl, sift together the: flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, ginger, black pepper, and ground star anise.

In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is fluffy. Slowly add the sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth. Next beat in eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is well blended before adding the next one. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the batter and add in the lime peel, beating the batter again to blend them in. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternating each time with buttermilk in 3 additions, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Once the all of the ingredients are incorporated into the batter, scrape it into the prepared cake pan.

Place the cake batter into the oven, and cook until the top begins to turn a golden color and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Set the pan on a cooling rack. Let cool, then cover and store at room temperature until ready to serve. The cake can be made 1 day ahead.

To serve the cake, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto a rack or plate, and peel off the parchment circle. Turn the cake right side up onto a platter. Sift powdered sugar onto the top, and slice it into wedges. Serve each piece with a side of pear compote and a dollop of crème fraîche on top.

*You can grind whole star anise pods in a spice mill and then strain them through a very fine sieve to isolate the powder. (Don’t use the big bits in the cake.)
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