I’ve taken a step away from more traditional fall apple recipes and made a wonderful Chai Spiced Pear Bundt Cake.
The truth is that I fell in love with some pears at the store. The first time I saw them, their rich color and elegant stems completely captivated me. I wanted to make something with them. I wanted to make something with them that would highlight their amazing beauty.
I looked into baking them whole, in a cake or figuring out some way to insure their beautiful color and shape could be preserved. I visualized some type of amazing culinary masterpiece that would be a food photographer’s dream….
And then I started thinking about fall and comfort food and some nice warming chai spices and bundt cake. Bundt cake? Yeah. I know. There goes the masterpiece. No, I wouldn’t be baking my beautiful pears whole in a cake with their tops peaking out hinting at the amazing whole pear held within.
That would have been impressive and different. I love to be impressive and different :) But, I didn’t think the skin would maintain it’s color through baking and after the muffin trials of last week, I wasn’t up for a lengthy testing process.
I thought about poaching them, so even if they were peeled, I could add back that gorgeous color with some spiced red wine. I’m sure that would have been lovely as well…
One of my favorite things to do with pears is make cobbler. You can see the theme here…casual comfort food.
So, as I said, I started thinking about chai spices and cake. You know I’m a tea drinker. I’m not big on a million different flavors of tea. I don’t mind a cup, but if I buy more than that, it will sit in my pantry as a novelty while I return to my favorite black tea of the moment.
Chai, on the other hand? It’s generally my flavored tea of choice, especially authentic chai tea. My brother in law apparently makes the most delicious, authentic chai tea and I look forward to the day I get to sample it. (If my family lived on my street instead of 1000’s of miles away, I certainly would have checked that off my list already.)
For every day use, I keep a box of vanilla chai tea bags on hand for when the mood strikes. I love adding a bag to a pitcher of iced tea. Just one bag mixed in with the rest of the black tea adds just a hint of spice to the background. I also use it in my Vanilla Chai Sugar Cookie Bars. But I digress…
As I was figuring this all out, my beautiful pears were getting ripe. I stashed them in the fridge to stop the ripening so that they didn’t turn to mush before I could use them. I thought I’d better get cracking with this Chai Spiced Pear Bundt Cake if I wanted it to happen at all.
How can I tell if my pears are ripe?
Pears are one of the few fruits that ripen off the tree. You can’t get that fully ripened sweetness from a crunchy pear. You’ve got to let it sit at room temperature and allow all that delicious sweetness and flavor to develop.
Pears ripen from the inside out, so sometimes it can be hard to tell. That’s why sometimes you cut into a pear that “feels” ripe on the outside, only to find that the core is brown and overripe. I hate when that happens.
So, to check, apply gentle pressure to the stem end. If it gives a little, it should be good to go. If the whole outside of the pear gives in to pressure, it’s probably overripe. You’ll definitely find out once you cut into it.
This recipe calls for peeled and chopped pears. Goodbye beautiful ruby red pears! Parting is such sweet sorrow…
(Just as an aside, as I was peeling the pears, I let some of the red skin remain here and there. I didn’t try to perfectly peel them. No one else would know about or see those few slivers of red. But I would know, and that thought made me smile.)
What’s the right amount of spice?
I knew I would use the chai tea somewhere in the recipe, but what about the other spices? I chose cinnamon, cardamom and clove to be my chai inspired spice mixture.
But let me be clear on something…I wasn’t looking to make this a spice cake where spices would be front and center. (I know we just covered this recently, but the whole topic bears repeating again. In other words, more is not always better.)
I love, love, love spice and I love, love, love almond flavor! But too much of either would overtake the delicate flavor of the pears. I feared the cake would simply taste like other cakes I had already made that didn’t have pears in them.
So, I was conservative with the spices and flavors. I wanted them to sit in the background and let the pear flavor shine through.
(I will add that more spice would also be delicious. It all depends on what your goal is. If you want a more intensely spiced cake, feel free to double the spices or add others to the mix. On the other hand, if you’re all about pears and almond, increase the almond extract.)
The Best (aka EASY) Way to Grease and Flour a Bundt Pan
Raise your hand if you hate greasing pans? I used to loathe it when I was a kid. That was before we had easy cooking sprays. Now? I don’t hate greasing them at all…even if I do it the old fashioned way.
I don’t know what my issue was when I was younger. I’m sure it had something to do with impatience. Now, it’s just a quick step in the baking process.
Unless, however, I’m greasing and flouring a bundt pan. The greasing part? Ok, no problem. The flouring part? Seriously? I’m supposed to tap the darn flour in every ridge and around the darned center tube?
Ugh! it’s tedious and messy. And you know I’m going to try to do it perfectly so that I get full and even, but light coverage. <<<See? I can’t even write that sentence without all of the descriptors to insure I’m doing it “just right.” Who wants their cake to get stuck in the pan because it wasn’t properly prepped? Not me.
But wait! ;) There’s an easier way! Yep! Just melt a Tablespoon of butter and mix it with a Tablespoon of flour. Get yourself a pastry brush and “paint” the inside of your bundt pan.
You’re going to LOVE how easy it is to get into all of the nooks and crannies. That darned center tube ceases to be a challenge. Just brush a layer of the paste and you are good to go.
If you don’t have a pastry brush, you can use a piece of waxed paper, a butter wrapper, your hand…whatever. If you can, though, get yourself a pastry brush. It’s a good tool to have in your baking arsenal.
I normally use silicone brushes for almost everything, but I like a natural bristled brush for this particular purpose. It gives me greater coverage and has more bristles to get into the crevices. (You do have to be careful with natural bristled brushes though, they can shed bristles and they are often not dishwasher safe.)
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Icing a bundt cake…Drizzle or Spread?
When it came time to figure out the icing, I knew I wanted it to echo the spices of the cake and I wanted it to be thick, but not solid.
I went for a cream cheese and butter based mixture then added in the sugar, spices and flavorings. You’ll see in the photo that the mixture ends up very creamy with soft peaks.
If that’s what you’re going for, stop there. At this stage, its like a creamy frosting. You’ll have to spread it over the top of the cake or pipe it back and forth over the top so that some of it makes it down the sides.
I wanted it to drizzle down the sides. So, I made a strong brew of some chai tea and added it, a spoonful at a time until I got a thick, but somewhat fluid consistency, one that I could coax into flowing down the sides a bit.
I could have added more tea and just gone to town drizzling the thinned out icing everywhere, but I chose to hit a middle ground.
The icing was thick, but kind of fluffy. I think it worked well.
Then, I wanted one more topping…something to add some texture to the cake. I originally thought I’d put some nuts in the batter, but, you know, some people love nuts in things and some do not.
Since I had added almond extract to both the cake and the icing, I wanted to stay in the same nut lane for the topping.
I thought I had some sliced almonds that I could toast and sprinkle on top, but no. However, I did have some mixed nuts and yes…I extracted the toasted almonds right out of that bag and chopped them up for the top.
In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have the sliced almonds. I liked the chunky texture of the chopped almonds instead for both flavor and looks.
So, after all that, how did this Chai Spiced Pear Bundt Cake turn out? It was delicious! The pears and sour cream kept it nice and moist. The butter adds a wonderful richness.
When you bite into it, you taste the pears surrounded in the rich cake batter. Then, the gentle spices kind of hit you in the end. The icing adds more spice and sweetness to the mix, so when you take a bite with the icing, you get a slightly more punched up spice profile.
So, yep. I made a bundt cake instead of some gustatory masterpiece that we could all fawn over. Except that we did all fawn over it.
I sent a big section of the cake over to a friend. She texted me later, “Holy smoke! I almost ate the entire thing last night!”
See? Masterpieces. They’re all in the eye of the beholder.
Chai Spiced Pear Bundt Cake
For the pan:
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (melted)
- 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
For the cake:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs (room temperature)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 3 cups ripe peeled chopped pears
For the icing:
- 1 bag vanilla chai tea (I used Bigelow)
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 2 ounces block cream cheese (room temperature)
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 pinch ground cloves
- 1 pinch salt
For the topping:
- chopped toasted almonds
Prepare the pan:
Adjust oven rack down to the bottom third of the oven. For me, this is just one level down from the center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, stir together the melted 1 Tablespoon of butter with the 1 Tablespoon of flour. Using a pastry brush, a piece of waxed paper or perhaps an empty butter wrapper, coat the entire inside surface of your bundt pan. (The brush makes this job a breeze.) Set aside.
Make the cake:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the 3 cups of flour, salt, baking soda and spices. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment for this.
Add eggs to the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, mixing between each addition until fully combined. Add the vanilla extract, almond extracts and sour cream. Continue beating until combined.
On low speed, gradually add flour mixture and beat until fully combined. The batter will be thick. Add the chopped pears and gently fold them into the batter until evenly distributed.
Pour batter into prepared bundt pan, spreading to distribute it evenly. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 15 minutes. Then, flip out of pan onto a paper towel lined rack to finish cooling.
- While the cake is cooling, place the vanilla chai teabag in 1/3 cup of hot water and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Remove the bag and allow the tea to completely cool. Once the cake is completely cool, make the icing.
Make the icing:
- In a medium bowl beat butter and cream cheese until fully combined and creamy. Add almond and vanilla extracts and continue beating until combined.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar, spices and salt. Add this to the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat until fully combined. Add the tea, a spoonful at a time until you get desired drizzling consistency. Spread the icing on top of cooled cake, allowing to cascade down the side. Sprinkle with chopped, toasted pecans.
*If you don't want to use the short cut of the mixed butter/flour paste, grease and flour the pan as you normally would. I just find that trying to coat a bundt pan with flour can be a little tedious. However, once you try this short cut, I think you're going to be forever converted.
*Measure your flour correctly. I use the spoon and sweep method. Stir the flour to lighten up an packed areas, then spoon it into your measuring cup. Drag a flat edge across the surface to level.
*Room temperature butter should be softened, not mushy. Don't leave it out for hours. It should feel firm, but pliable. You should be able to press on the butter and make an indent with your finger that still holds it's shape. This will make a difference in how your cake turns out.
*You can heat your sour cream in the microwave for just a few seconds to help bring it to room temperature. Be careful not to allow it to get warm. You don't want to melt the butter when you add the sour cream to the batter.
*Pears should be ripe, but not mushy.
*Adding the tea gives an additional boost of flavor and helps loosen the icing so that it can cascade down the sides of the cake. You can leave it as thick or make it as thin as you desire. For a thicker icing, omit the tea and just spread the icing on top of the cake.
*Because of the icing, I store this cake in the refrigerator. I like to heat up individual slices for a few seconds in the microwave to take the chill off. I find when spice cakes are too cold, you can't get the full flavor.
*In order to allow the delicate pear flavor to really shine through, I was conservative with the spices. If you are looking for a more intensely spiced cake, feel free to increase the spices by double or to your taste.
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