Monday, November 16, 2009

Pumpkin Who? Thanksgiving Ginger Cake & Poached Pears

Thanksgiving Gluten Free Ginger Cake & Poached Pears

Watch out, pumpkin pie.

This year, Thanksgiving is not just about that orange gourd-like squash. It will be all about another knobby little tuber called ginger root.

This gluten-free ginger cake with poached pears takes a little bit of time to prepare. It is one of those wonderful desserts that looks complicated, but is not. You can make the whole creation ahead of time and plate it at the last minute. While everyone else is eating that orange colored pie, your guests will be impressed with a dessert that will not only make them swoon, it'll help digest that ginormous Thanksgiving meal. Ginger is a great thing to eat after a huge dinner.

The original recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine, in an article from the husband and wife team of Nancy Oakes and Bruce Aidells. He, of sausage fame, and she, of Boulavard Restaurant fame. The modifications and enhancements come from the L&P gluten-free test kitchen.

Set aside a couple of hours to prepare this. A day or so before the holiday is fine. You can refrigerate the poached pears and sauce separately. The cake can be stored under a glass dome, or wrap it up in foil after it is completely cold and store it in the refrigerator too. Just make sure to take all the ingredients out the day you wish to serve it so that they come to room temperature. You can heat the sauce if you like it warm. It tastes great warm or at room temperature.

No one will guess that the dessert is gluten-free. The crumb looks like any other cake, and the ginger, molasses flavoring will make everyone swoon. The secret ingredient for the cake and sauce cannot be understated. It is key to the final flavor. And no one will ever know that it started as a bottle of artistan root beer. Many thanks to Bruce Aidells and Nancy Oakes for adding this crazy ingredient - who knew a bottle of root beer could be this versatile?!

Gluten Free Ginger Cake & Poached Pear
& Sauce with Whipped Cream

cast of characters

Ingredients: Cake

  • 2 scant cups gluten free flour (lightly filled)
  • 1 teaspoon xantham gum
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root powder (make sure it is a new jar)
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 scant cup veggie oil (not olive)
  • 3 large eggs or 2 jumbo eggs
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1.5 cups of dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup of the best crafty root beer you can find

Cake Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9 inch square baking pan with straight sides. Dust with granulated white sugar. Set the prepared pan aside.

buttered and sprinkled with sugar

Mix flour, salt, spices, xantham gum together in a large bowl. Thoroughly mix eggs, oil and molasses in a smaller bowl and whisk until completely incorporated.

gluten free flour & spices

molasses, eggs & oil do mix, eventually

In a small saucepan mix well, and heat to boiling, the root beer and brown sugar. Be careful. Boiling sugar is hot!

brown sugar & foamy root beer

Meantime, pour the molasses mixture into the larger bowl with the flour et al. Mix with a wooden spoon. If you use a whisk (like I did) it will get stuck.

Once the rootbeer/brown sugar mixture is boiling, pour it into the larger bowl and this time using a whisk, make sure it is all incorporated. It will be very liquidy and may bubble up some. Just keep stirring until it feels incorporated.

pour and whisk carefully - tis hot

Quickly pour (yes, it pours like liquid) into the prepared pan and place immediately into the oven.

really liquidy batter into the oven

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes and then turn the oven down to 325 and continue to bake for about 15 minutes more or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can still look under-done but as soon as the toothpick comes out clean, take the cake out and set it on a rack to cool, still in the pan. Gluten free batters should bake at a lower temperature.

center looks gooey, but toothpick is clean, so it's done

Take a butter knife and drag it around the edges after about ten minutes just to loosen the edge of the cake, but leave it in the pan to cool for about 30 minutes. Take the rack and place it on top of the cake and flip it out of the pan. You may have to tap the bottom of the pan with a butter knife to convince it to come out, but it will. Be patient.

Quickly place your cake plate on top of the flipped cake and holding the rack and the plate, flip it over so the top is up again. I used a glass cake plate that has a dome. You can use anything you want but be sure to anticipate how you will be wrapping up the cake to store when you plate it. Once is on the plate you will not able to get it off - you have to cut the pieces from there to plate the servings.

nice crusty sugary edges

Poached Pears

This is the fun part. The hardest part about poaching is peeling and coring the fruit. We used baby bosc pears from the Farmer's Market. You can use Bosc Pears from anywhere, big or small. They both take about the same amount of time to poach.

Ingredients: Poached Pears

Allow 1/2 pear per serving

  • 4 large firm, but ripe bosc pears or 6 small ones
  • 3-4 bottles of the same great root beer
  • peel from 1.5 small lemons or one large one (not the pith)
  • 1/2 whole vanilla bean

Directions: Poached Pears

Peel pears, leaving stems intact if you can. Cut in half and core carefully. Use a tiny melon ball instrument if you can. Makes quick work of the core.

Pour root beer into a flat bottomed saucepan large enough to hold the pear halves laying down. Use enough root beer to cover the pears completely. Drop in large lemon peels and the vanilla bean.

Bring to a simmer and poach on low heat, so that the liquid slightly simmers. Don't cover the pan. Poach until the pears are soft, but still firm enough to keep their shape. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Just keep checking back.

prepared pears, lemon peel, vanilla poaching in root beer

Once the pears are done, remove them with a slotted spatula or spoon to a container that you can close and refrigerate if you are not serving them immediately. Let them cool completely before storing.

little poached pears cooling off

Meantime, turn the heat up a little and gently boil the liquid until it reduces to a syrupy consistency. It takes about 15 minutes. Watch it carefully at the end because it can evaporate and burn. I like to take it off the heat a tiny bit before it turns thick. It continues to thicken up even off the heat. Immediately strain our the lemon peel and vanilla bean, and pour into a container or a pitcher and let it cool to room temperature before storing.

this ended up being about 1.5 cups when finished

Whipped Cream

Buy a can or make it at home. If you whip it at home, add a touch of sugar and little bit of vanilla.


Cut the cake into even sized pieces. Place the cake on a plate off-center a touch.

Take a pear half (we used two small halves for each serving just because we are piggies). And place it stem side up leaning on the cake.

Pour or spoon a little bit of the warmed or room temperature syrup over the cake and the pear. It will pool at the base of the cake. You want enough for each serving to have a tiny pool at the cake base.

Plop a little bit of whipped cream on top of each piece of cake. Garnish with mint leaves or candied ginger peel if you wish.

Serve and watch them swoon.

pumpkin, who?

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