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A coffee cake to make for a busy week

Recipe: Pears contrast with tart cranberries

Pears and fresh or dried cranberries balance each other in this spiced coffee cake.

Pears and fresh or dried cranberries balance each other in this spiced coffee cake. Kathy Morrison

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.

Ingredients for a pear cake
Two little Bosc pears were used in the cake.

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

Serves 12-16

Ingredients:

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 egg

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

Flour and sugar and butter in a bowl
A pastry blender makes quick work of streusel.

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

Instructions:

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.

Cake batter in a square baking pan
Spread the batter evenly before adding streusel.

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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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