After a bit of a hiatus, our leader (Angela at Spinach Tiger) has given us a new schedule of assignments and we're back into rattling the pans at the Cooking Italy group. Our first assignment this week turned out to be A Farm Wife's Fresh Pear Tart from, of course, Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" book.
"Uh-oh", I thought (you know how I feel about baking), but buoyed up by a couple of recent successes in the baking department, I was ready to give this a go. As long as I stuck carefully to the recipe I felt reasonably confident of being able to pull it off.
Then, came the curve-ball. Angela emailed us all to tell us she had made the cake and found it a bit on the "rubbery" side. She pointed out that there was no shortening in the recipe and thought that a little bit of melted butter might make a difference. Oh boy - we were on dangerous ground now - tinkering with the recipe (especially when I don't know what I'm doing) would surely lead me to disaster. I was nervous about this.
Then a reprieve came. Another member of our group, Lynne at FrancoFoodie, emailed to say she too had made the cake and had been happy with the texture. So now I decided to stick to the original recipe for my first attempt - plenty of time to play around with it and experiment another time if this wasn't exactly to my liking.
Marcella recommends using winter Bosc or Anjou pears for this, and even though we are in spring here now there are still a few late season Beurre de Bosc pears hanging around. I found these pears yesterday at my local organic produce market.
This recipe is about as simple to make as a cake recipe could possibly be, and the end result ... I really like this - it is even better I think today than it was yesterday. It is not a flashy, show-off kind of cake that commands your attention before you've even tasted it - it's infinitely more humble. It's a simple cake, which I can well imagine a "farm wife" making from the limited ingredients she might have had on hand - I can visualise her collecting a couple of eggs from the hen house and picking a few pears from the tree - sugar and butter almost certainly in short supply. It's not too sweet, and without any butter is not rich. I found the texture to be quite firm and dense (though not heavy), and although I can see how someone might describe this as "rubbery" it is not the word that I would use. I keep thinking that I have had something like this before - there is something about it makes me feel very nostalgic - maybe it is just the fact that this really speaks to me of simpler times. This is not a cake that is going to set your tastebuds alight, but it's honest and simple and I for one wouldn't change a thing.
Note: The original recipes suggests 12 cloves as an optional ingredient. I didn't use cloves at all, as I'm not hugely fond of them. Both Angela and Lynne used just half a dozen and found that to be plenty.
A Farm Wife's Fresh Pear Tart Recipe
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
1/4 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
900g (2lb) fresh pears
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
6-12 cloves (optional)
First preheat the oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F).
Next prepare a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin. Grease the pan generously with butter, then sprinkle breadcrumbs into the tin, shake them all around to coat all of the base and sides, then turn over and give it a bit of a tap on the bottom to shake out any surplus.
Prepare the pears - peel them, cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the core, and then cut into thickish slices. Put them into a mixing bowl and set aside.
I mixed the batter together in the food processor, but you could really pretty easily do this by hand or using a hand-mixer.
Beat together the eggs and milk. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue beating. Sift in the flour, and pulse a few times just until a thick batter is formed.
Pour the batter over the pears, and mix until all the pears are well coated, then tip everything into the prepared cake pan. Using the back of a spoon or spatula, level off the top, and then dot little bits of butter all over the surface. If using, now stud the surface with the cloves.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until cooked through and golden on top.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool to lukewarm, and then, using a couple of spatulas, loosen it from the bottom of the tin and transfer to a plate.
Do visit my Cooking Italy page to learn more about the group (maybe you'd even like to join in - you don't have to have a blog to join the group and cook along with everyone else), find links to other members of the group, and links to all the Cooking Italy recipes I've cooked so far.
I'm also submitting this post to Cookbook Sundays. Why not go visit and see who else has dusted off their cookbooks - you'll almost certainly find some great recipes, and maybe you'll discover a new book you'd like to add to your collection.