Pear, Ginger and Rum Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

This spicy and boozy cake was inspired by my recent trip to London. I love exploring culture through cuisine, and foreign grocery stores are always a pit-stop for me. I came across this pear, ginger, and white chocolate cake in Waitrose, and was intrigued by the flavor combination.

The cake is described as a “dark sticky ginger cake made with black treacle and stem ginger, filled and topped with British pear jam and white chocolate ganache with notes of caramel.” The original cake was cloyingly sweet due to the white chocolate caramel ganache, but I loved the autumnal harmony of the pear, ginger, and molasses.

I don’t see pear jam very often, and I loved how mossy and velvety it felt on the tongue. The stem ginger, which is basically ginger soaked in a sugar syrup, studded the cake and greeted my molars like spicier and more succulent versions of raisins. And the treacly stickiness of the cake felt so warm and cozy and perfect for the cold weather.

After examining the ingredients list closely, I came up with an action plan to put my own spin on this cake. While the Waitrose version used stem ginger, I used a David Lebovitz recipe that relied on fresh ginger – I wanted a less sweet effect. After reading the comments, I also halved the sugar and oil from the original recipe. The cake is spicy and flavorful, but definitely a little dry with less oil.

I didn’t find an affordable pear jam in my local grocery stores (Whole Foods had one for $10) so I decided to make my own. The jam involved dicing up less-than-ripe pears and letting it sit in sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice overnight, then heating it up while simultaneously mashing it to get a jam. I probably should’ve cut the pieces smaller, but I didn’t mind the toothsomeness.

While I found many recipes for caramelized white chocolate frosting, I decided to keep it simple and made a two-ingredient frosting from Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce and unsalted butter. For me, the sweet, smooth and creamy frosting is what ties the whole cake together. I hadn’t planned to brush the cake with rum, but it seemed like a good idea and I did not regret it. The bite from the fresh ginger mellows after a day or two, as does the alcohol from the rum, and this is a cake that improves with time.

Pear, Ginger and Rum Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

Makes one 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf cake

Cake adapted from David Lebovitz in the New York Times; pear jam from Practical Self Reliance; salted caramel frosting adapted from Let The Baking Begin

Ingredients

Ginger Rum Cake
  • 140g molasses
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 80g neutral oil, like canola
  • 150g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup dark rum (optional)

Pear Jam
  • 1 lb pears that are just shy of ripe
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Salted Caramel Frosting
  • 4 oz butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 7 oz salted caramel sauce

Instructions

To make the jam:

  1. Peel, core and dice pears. (Be sure to chop the pears relatively small, as they’ll remain close to that size in the finished jam.)
  2. Toss the pears in lemon juice and sugar, cover and refrigerate for overnight (12 to 24 hours). This step is important, and at an absolute minimum, they need 4 hours, preferably more.
  3. Place pear mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil on high. The mixture will foam, so be sure your pan is big enough to handle foaming to avoid overflows.
  4. Stir the mixture occasionally, watching for overflows, and cook for about 10-15 minutes. If pear pieces are too large, crush slightly with a potato masher (optional).
  5. Cook until the pear jam reaches gel stage at 220 F, using an instant-read thermometer or testing a small amount on a plate placed in the freezer.
  6. Set aside the pear jam in the fridge for later use.

To make the cake:

  1. Position rack in center of oven. Heat to 350 degrees. Line a 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together the molasses, sugar and oil. In another bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.
  3. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil. Stir in baking soda, then mix hot water into molasses mixture. Stir in ginger.
  4. Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into batter. Add egg, and continue mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 minutes, until top of cake springs back lightly when pressed or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. If the top of cake browns too quickly before cake is done, drape a piece of foil over it and continue baking.
  5. Cool cake for at least 30 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen it from pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack, and peel off parchment paper.

To make the frosting:

  1. Start with room temperature butter. For this, remove butter out of the fridge for about 3 hours.
  2. Add the butter to the mixer bowl and whip for about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides several times throughout. Then add salted caramel sauce until just mixed.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Slice cake into three layers. Brush each layer with rum, if desired.
  2. Spread pear jam onto two of the layers.
  3. Assemble cake into a three-layered stack.
  4. I recommend freezing the cake for about 30 minutes for easier frosting. Spread salted caramel frosting all over the cake.

Soft Gingerbread Cookies with Rum Butter Glaze from Ottolenghi

I saw these gingerbread cookies when I was at Ottolenghi’s in London. What struck me about the cookies was how soft they felt beneath the packaging, but alas, I never ended up purchasing them in favor of other treats. Luckily for me, the recipe was easy enough to find online and therefore recreate at home. I learned that it was originally a Tartine recipe that Ottolenghi found super compelling and had to include in his book, Sweet.

I didn’t have a cookie stamp, so I made my own with salt dough, which is essentially flour, salt, and water formed into a clay and baked at a low temperature to form a mold. I used the end of a funnel to form this holey honeycomb pattern.

How soft the cookies were really depends on the thickness of the dough, how long it was in the oven, and whether the cookies were cut from the first roll-out or reconstituted dough scraps, which tends to have incorporated extra flour sprinkled on the bench to prevent sticking.

The cookie was warmingly spiced with black pepper, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon, and not too sweet. I loved the rum glaze; it added a touch more spice and just a bit more complexity. I actually forgot to add butter to the glaze, but I didn’t find that the cookie suffered from it at all. I also loved how the glaze cracks with each bite.

Soft Gingerbread Cookies with Rum Butter Glaze from Ottolenghi

Recipe from Epicurious

Makes 12 3-inch cookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tbsp (85 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 packed cup plus 2 tbsp (90 g) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (100 g) blackstrap molasses (I used regular molasses)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp (235 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for pressing
  • 1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used regular cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Place the butter, sugar and molasses in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on medium speed until smooth and incorporated. Add the egg yolk and continue to beat until fully combined.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper into a bowl. Turn the speed of the mixer to low, and add the dry ingredients to the butter and molasses. Once the mix comes together, tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently. Roll out the dough so that it is about 1/4 inch/ 0.5 cm thick. If the dough is very soft, you will need to chill it.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. Dip the cookie stamps in a small bowl of flour, shake off any excess and then press them firmly into the dough, one at a time, to create a deep imprint. How far you need to press to get an imprint will depend on your stamp; the patterns on some are more deeply cut than others. Bear in mind that the cookies rise a little when cooked, so any soft imprints will disappear. Using a round cookie cutter that is slightly larger than the pattern, cut out the pieces of imprinted gingerbread. Transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets, spaced about 3/4 inch/2 cm apart. Reroll the dough and continue to stamp and cut cookies until all the dough is used up.
  5. Bake for 9–10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until firm to the touch. They will continue to firm up as they cool, so don’t be tempted to bake them for any longer.
  6. To make the rum butter glaze while the gingerbreads are in the oven, as the glaze needs to be brushed onto the cookies while they are still warm, sift the confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl. Add the melted butter, rum (or lemon juice) and water and mix with a spoon until smooth. The glaze will thicken slightly if it sits around, so stir through a little more warm water if you need to—it should be the consistency of runny honey.
  7. Remove the cookies from the oven, leave them to cool for 5 minutes, then brush or dab the glaze all over with a pastry brush. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Bread Illustrated’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Cooler temps always inspires me to turn on the oven and bake something. I was debating between something with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon in it, and this cinnamon swirl bread won. Because pumpkin pie spice – ya’ basic.

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This loaf is a real stunner. I really enjoy making braided breads because of the technical finesse involved. Dumping brownie batter in a pan, or shaping cookie dough balls doesn’t interest me. But rolling out dough and shaping it and re-introducing it to the loaf pan while maintaining its shape… now that’s the stuff.

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Looking at the loaf sliced through is making me realize I probably should invest in a bread knife. Look at all of that unfortunate compression! But that aside, it really is a stellar recipe. I cannot recommend Bread Illustrated enough for its step-by-step photos and precise instructions. As Brene Brown might say, clear is kind. The bread was fluffy, enriched, and just a tad sweet.

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The swirls were such a visual treat. I can totally imagine French-toasting this bread, or serving it with cinnamon raisin cream cheese for a cinnamon raisin double whammy.

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Bread Illustrated’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Adapted from Bread Illustrated
Makes one 8.5 inch x 4.5 inch loaf

equipment: stand mixer, rolling pin, pastry brush, instant-read thermometer, 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan

dough
4 tbsps (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1.75 cups + 2 tbsps of flour (10.5 oz) bread flour
6 tbsps (1.125 oz) nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 tbsp active or instant yeast
0.75 cups (6 oz) of water, room temperature
1/6 cup (1.16 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 egg (or 2 tbsps, or 25g)
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (3.75 oz) golden raisins

filling
1/2 cup (2 oz) confectioners’ sugar
1.5 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 egg, lightly beaten with 1/2 tbsp water and pinch of salt

1. for the dough Toss butter with 1/2 tbsp flour in a bowl and set aside to soften. Whisk remaining flour, milk powder, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer. In a separate 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk water, sugar and egg until sugar dissolves. Using a dough hook on low speed, slowly add water mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest 20 minutes.

2. Add salt to dough and knead on medium-low speed until dough is smooth, elastic, and clears sides of bowl, about 8 minutes. With mixer running, add butter, a few pieces at a time, and knead until butter is fully incorporated, about 4 minutes. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 3-5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add raisins and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.

3. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container. Using a greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough towards the middle. Turn the bowl 45 degrees and repeat. Do this for a total of 8 folds. Cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rise for 45 minutes. Repeat folding 8 times, cover tightly with plastic again and let dough rise until nearly doubled in size, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Press down on dough to deflate. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Press and roll into 11×6 inch rectangle, with short side parallel to counter edge. Fold dough lengthwise so it’s 11 by 3 inches. From the short 3-inch edge, roll dough away from you so it’s a firm ball, keeping it taut.

5. For the filling Whisk all together in bowl until combined. Coat rolled dough ball lightly in flour and place on lightly floured counter. With seam side down, flatten ball with rolling pin into 18 x 7 inch rectangle, short side parallel to counter edge. Mist surface of dough with water (I wet my hands and speckled it over the dough, you can use a spray bottle.) Spread filling mixture over dough, leaving 1/4 inch border on sides, and 3/4 inch border on top and bottom. Mist filling with water once more.

6. Roll dough away from you into firm cylinder. Pinch seam and ends closed. Dust cylinder lightly on all sides with flour, covering loosely with greased plastic, and let rest for 10 minutes.

7. Grease one 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan. Cut cylinder in half lengthwise. Turn halves cut side up and gently strength into 14-inch lengths. Arrange strips side by side, perpendicular to counter edge, and pinch the far end together. Take left strip of dough and lay over right strip. Repeat, keeping cut sides up, until dough is twisted all the way through. Pinch remaining end closed. Transfer loaf cut side up into pan. Press dough into corners of pan and pushed any exposed raisins into seams of the braid. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaves reach 1 inch above lip of pan, and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 1.5 to 2 hours.

8. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Brush loaves with egg mixture and bake until crust is well-browned, about 25 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through. Reduce oven to 325 F, tent loaf with aluminium foil, and continue baking until internal temperature of loaf reaches 200-205 F, about 15 to 25 minutes. Let loaf cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove loaf from pan, let cool completely on wire rack, about 3 hours, before serving.

Mexican Chocolate Brownies


I’ve been madly craving brownies lately… and it has come to a point where shelling out $2-$4 each time I’m craving a brownie became ridiculous and I decided to take my cravings into my own hands. Introducing, the Mexican Chocolate Brownies. They’re Mexican because they are spicy. Mexican hot chocolate is known to include cinnamon… hence these brownies’ nomenclature.

The recipe called for chili powder or cayenne, which I didn’t have. I had some bird’s eye chili (or chilli padi, as we Singaporeans like to call them) and since it is ferociously spicy by most standards, I decided to just mix in the seeds from one chili for a 9 x 5 dish. It didn’t turn out very spicy at all, which I was disappointed by. However, the texture was delightfully fudgy and if you wanted a fudgy brownie, these definitely make the cut. If I were to make this again, I’d try to make sure I have all the ingredients before embarking on the recipe. Or just put in more chili seeds. The spicier, the better. Maybe next time I’d even try including Taza’s Guajillo Chili chocolate, which is probably one of the few chocolates I would happily nibble on all by itself. (Other chocolates I would do that to include Trader Joe’s Pound Plus semisweet for its good value and versatility and Vosges Chocolate for its variety. I would welcome a bar of either for my birthday, thank you very much.)

Mexican Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes one 9 x 5 pan

1/4 cup butter
1-oz bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/6 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips (pref. semisweet or bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×5 baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease.
In a small, heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir with a fork until very smooth. Stir in cocoa powder until fully incorporated. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, egg and vanilla extract. Whisking steadily, pour chocolate mixture into sugar mixture. Stir until smooth. Sift flour, ground cinnamon, cayenne pepper, chili powder and salt into the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until brownies set and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan comes out with only a few moist crumbs, not batter, attached.
Cool in the pan completely before slicing.