Any time you capture a culinary creation with steam rising from it, you will be inspiring salivation. If you add that as you served it, you were at anchor in the Tred Avon river on a crisp and damp autumn evening, down below in a toasty salon with friends and family, celebrating an engagement with Dark ‘n Stormies and good red wine…you will be inspiring envy. So it is with this warm gingerbread cake with pears (intended to be caramelized, but closer to stewed given a too-small frying pan and too-impatient crew), which followed a dinner of pork tenderloin with rum cherry glaze, and layered mashed potatoes with mushroom duxelles.
Every once in a while we like to stress for you the uniquely maritime nature of our blog; that each recipe is prepared in the slightly challenging environment of a relatively small sailboat galley. Here we add a twist…I was bringing the main course over to Night Town by dinghy in the dark, along with the ingredients to make dessert as the main meal wound down. So your ingredients, boat-bag-level-one: pears, three eggs (in the pink-lidded container at the upper right), 2 cups flour (in the ziploc, creating padding for the spoon handle that is forming a support span across the top of the pears that will carry a second layer of ingredients for transport)…
1 stick butter (plus ~1/3 cup more for pears and greasing the cake pan), 1 cup sugar (plus 3/4 cup more for pears), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons baking soda (plus 2 teaspoons more for follow-on step), and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 tablespoon fresh, grated), and 1 cup molasses.
As dinner winds down, grease an 8″ square cake pan liberally with butter (if you’ve left your butter sitting out in the toasty galley during dinner it will be perfectly soft for this purpose) and flour the pan by putting a few tablespoons of flour in the pan and shaking it around to cover as much of the bottom and sides of the pan as possible. This will ease removal of the cake once baked.
Melt one stick of butter and cool slightly; then beat in 1 cup sugar and 3 eggs.
Whisk together the flour, spices, and 2 teaspoons baking soda, and add to the butter/egg mixture, mixing well.
Boil one cup of water in a small saucepan. When boiling, stir in 1 cup molasses with a wooden spoon (there’s something chemistry-ey going on here that produces a lot of bubbles and demands a wooden spoon…I would ask Captain Peter, who is a chemical engineer, but is anyone really reading this blog for chemistry lessons?) Dissolve 2 teaspoons baking soda in 2 tablespoons hot water and stir into water/molasses mixture. Add this to the batter.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45-60 minutes, or until a knife point or toothpick comes out clean.
After cooling cake for about 10 minutes, run a knife around the edge and invert to remove cake from pan. Here’s where your Galley Pirates get real; very frequently, for real pirates this doesn’t go perfectly. Here, a corner of the cake just refused to leave the pan without further persuasion. Don’t panic: if this happens with a cake that you are frosting, just glue that piece back on with frosting.
In this case, I pushed the corner back on while the cake was still warm and it largely stuck; spooning pears strategically over the top camouflaged my folly. Take a look at that piece up top of the post…that’s the defective piece…are you going to turn it down?
While the cake is baking, take 4-6 pears (depending on size) and peel, core and slice them in about 1/4″ slices. Heat 1/4 cup of butter in a saute pan; if you want them caramelized, make sure the pan is large enough (or you are prepared to work in batches) so that the pears are single-layer for cooking. If you are constrained, as I was…prepare for semi-caramelized, semi-stewed, still-entirely-delicious pear topping. Sprinkle with about 3/4 cup sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Ladle the pears and sauce over the top of the cake and serve steaming hot with final glasses of wine. Laugh. A lot. Then climb in your cozy sea bearth and count your blessings, which just might include leftover gingerbread cake for breakfast!