Spiced Pear Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce, from Scandinavian Gatherings
This festive, aromatic spiced pear bundt cake is a spectacular centerpiece for any and all fall, winter, and holiday gatherings.
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As soon as we turn the calendar page from October to November, all I can think about is baking, baking, baking. I start planning the cookies, candies, pastries, cakes, and other desserts I’ll be making over the holidays two months in advance—I should talk to someone about that, I know—and I also begin testing new recipes to find candidates to add to the usual line-up. Not only does this make for a sweet end of year, every year, but it allows me to welcome the holidays feeling thoroughly prepared.
I turn to magazines and cookbooks for inspiration, flipping through old favorites but also looking for new titles that will spice things up. This year, a craft and cookbook filled with me joy from the moment I opened it: Scandinavian Gatherings, by Melissa Bahen, creator of the blog Lulu the Baker. I’ve been online friends with Melissa for years, but for some inexplicable reason, I didn’t own her book until now—it was released in 2016—and I’ll long regret those two lost years spent sans Scandinavian crafts and treats.
I’ve long been attracted to the Scandinavian aesthetic. I’d describe it as minimalist, yet warm and cozy. Discreet, yet assertive. Whimsical, but not childish. Scandinavian Gatherings is a perfect illustration of all these qualities. Every time I open the book, I want to jump right into the tablescapes and rooms Melissa has created: the crafts are simple and doable, and look like things you want—scratch that, need—in your décor. The book is divided by occasion and covers spring to winter, breakfast to dinner. Each chapter contains a short and well-thought-out selection of savory and sweet recipes and handful of projects, which means you can easily decide to execute a full chapter to recreate Melissa’s vision in your own home. Or you can do as I did: bookmark the whole book and go on a craft and baking frenzy!
I’ve made a few recipes from Scandinavian Gatherings already and they were all a hit. The Caramel Almond Sponge Cake (page 191) was so easy to make: for sure, it will be on heavy rotation at my house. I snacked on Smoked Salmon, Herbed Cream Cheese, and Baby Cucumber Open-Faced Sandwiches (page 69) on a snowy weekday and felt like a queen. There are so many more recipes I want to try—the breads look especially spectacular—but the true showpiece from Scandinavian Gatherings has to be this Spiced Pear Bundt Cake.
I haven’t made many in my baking life, but I noticed that few desserts impress more than bundt cakes. Their shape is spectacular, of course, but what’s best about bundt cakes is that they pack in the flavors and garnishes. This Spiced Pear Bundt Cake uses a generous amount of aromatic spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves, and is dotted with jammy bits of pear throughout. This cake is easy to whip up and makes the whole house smell heavenly for hours, a reward in itself.
You could very well serve this cake as is, or simply dusted with powdered sugar, but if you want to go all out, make the accompanying salted caramel sauce. Yes, it requires you to make caramel, but I promise it’s easier than it looks. You simply have to stand by the stove for about 8 minutes while you watch sugar boil and turn amber. Once it does, you whisk in heavy cream and the remaining ingredients. This produces, in my opinion, the best dessert sauce there is—you’ll want to pour it liberally over any and every cake, apple and pear pies, ice creams and gelati, and even over your morning granola. Why not? You only live once!
In Scandinavian Gatherings, Melissa made a regular caramel sauce, but I can’t make caramel without salting it anymore! Salt adds such an addictive, balancing touch to desserts—especially to this caramel—but rest assured, it is optional if you prefer your caramel straight up. Melissa suggests serving whipped cream with the cake, too, and I love that idea, though I’d never say no to a scoop of vanilla bean gelato either.
I’m including the instructions to make crispy pear chips, which contribute to a spectacular presentation. Your guests are likely to fight over the pear chips, so you should make plenty! Making them isn’t hard, but it requires a mandolin to slice the pear extra-thin, and a long baking time in a low oven, so you need to plan ahead. I suggest you go this extra mile if you serve the cake on a special night, or even for a birthday party.
Helpful Tips for Making Spiced Pear Bundt Cake
Buttering is key:Bundt cake pans come in many shapes and forms, and many, such as the one I used, have intricate patterns. To make sure your baked cake will slip right out of the pan, you need to butter it very thoroughly. I like to use a pastry brush and very soft, but not melted, butter. Melted butter will run and gather in the cavities, but what you want is for all the nooks and crannies to be evenly buttered. You’ll then dust the whole pan with flour and shake off the excess. These two steps take a bit of time, but the beautiful cake your patience will produce is worth it.
Use ripe, not mushy, pears: This cake requires you to use firm pears that hold their shape after baking. Such varieties include Bosc, Anjou, and Rocha. The pears should be ripe and juicy, but still firm, so the diced pieces hold their shape throughout the cake. You’ll know if a pear is overripe if it is browned in several spots and if it bruises easily if you press it with the tip of a finger.
Jar that Salted Caramel Sauce: This recipe makes enough sauce to generously drizzle over the cake and pour over every slice, but you could easily double the recipe to make an extra jar or two—a lovely homemade holiday gift idea. If you double the recipe, use a larger saucepan so the water and sugar mixture comes a little over 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides. This will ensure the cooking time remains similar and allows plenty of room for the caramel to bubble up, but not over, when you whisk in the cream.
For the Crispy Pear Chips: Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the sugar in a shallow plate. Using a paper towel, pat the pear slices dry, then carefully dip both sides of each pear slice into the sugar to coat. Transfer the pear slices to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 50 minutes. Carefully turn, then bake for an additional 60 to 90 minutes, or until the pear chips are light golden. (The chips will finish crisping up as they cool.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an open container, with parchment paper sheets in between layers to avoid the pear chips from sticking to one another, until ready to use.
For the Spiced Pear Bundt Cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). If you’re using a dark Bundt pan, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Generously butter and flour the interior of the Bundt pan, shaking out any excess flour.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer, beat the sugars and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed after each addition until smooth.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter-and-sugar mixture, followed by half of the milk. Continue alternating flour and milk until all have been added. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula, then beat the batter on high speed for 20 to 30 seconds. Using a spatula, fold the pears into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for about 65 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the edges of pan, and a bamboo skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the spiced pear bundt cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently invert it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
For the Salted Caramel Sauce: In a small aluminum saucepan with tall sides set over medium heat, cook the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the mixture caramelizes and turns amber-colored, 7 to 8 minutes.
Immediately remove the caramel from the heat and whisk in the cream. The mixture will sputter and splash, so wearing an oven mitt and/or long sleeves is a great idea. If the mixture sieves up, whisk it over medium heat just until it becomes smooth again.
Add the butter, vanilla, and salt, whisk until smooth, and allow it to cool to room temperature. If you’re making the sauce in advance, transfer it to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.
SERVING: Serve the Spiced Pear Bundt Cake at room temperature. Gently reheat the salted caramel sauce if it was refrigerated. Drizzle the sauce over the cake, then stand some apple chips on top of the cake, gently pressing them down to slightly insert them into the caramel and the cake. Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if using. Present the cake to your guests, bask into their compliments, then slice into portions and drizzle each with more caramel.
Store leftover Spiced Pear Bundt Cake under a cake dome or in an airtight container. Keep at room temperature for up to 24 hours, or refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Store leftover caramel sauce in a glass jar and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Pear chips will soften as days pass, so it’s best to eat them within 24 hours.
Did you make this?
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Disclosure notice: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.
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