Recipe: Pears contrast with tart cranberries
Pears and fresh or dried cranberries balance each other in this spiced coffee cake.
This is the week everything speeds up. So much is happening in the moment that it’s nice to have something done ahead – even if it’s just a coffee cake for drop-in guests or to serve on Christmas morning.
My favorite winter baking fruit, the pear, gives this coffee cake a tender moistness, and the cranberries provide tart contrast. Bosc pears are excellent in this recipe, but a not-too-soft Bartlett also will work. Use dried cranberries, as noted below, or sub in fresh (or frozen) ones, lightly chopped. Change up the spices to suit personal taste – cardamom also is perfect with pears.
The streusel especially can be done ahead and refrigerated, and the cake reheats quite beautifully in the microwave. Whew, at least that’s done.
Spiced pear and cranberry coffee cake
For the cake:
⅔ to 1 cup dried cranberries (or 1 cup fresh cranberries, lightly chopped)
1/4 cup unsweetened or sweetened cranberry juice or regular apple juice (skip if using fresh cranberries)
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
2-½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 large or 2 small ripe but mostly firm pears, peeled, cored and diced, about 1 cup
For the streusel:
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
If using dried cranberries, soak them for up to 30 minutes in the juice. (If the cranberries are very hard, try heating the juice first, then soaking.) Once the cranberries are softer, drain off the juice and reserve for another use, or drink it!
If using fresh cranberries, make sure they’re at least cut in half; additional chopping is optional.
When ready to make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and lightly grease the paper with cooking spray.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and the spices.
In a larger bowl, combine the melted butter and the ¾ cup brown sugar. Let the mixture cool slightly if it’s still warm, then stir in the egg and vanilla. Blend in the buttermilk or yogurt.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing until smooth. Fold in the diced pear and the cranberries.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan (it will be thick), using a spatula to spread it into the corners.
Make the streusel: Stir together the ½ cup sugar, ½ cup flour and the ½ teaspoon ginger. Cut in the butter chunks using a pastry blender or two knives. (A small food processor also can be used.)
Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the batter. Bake the cake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cake cool for 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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For week of Dec. 10:
Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!
* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.
* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.
* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.
* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.
* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.
* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.
* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.
* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.
* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.
* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.
* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.
* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.
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