RECIPE: Upside Down Bay Leaf and Pear Polenta Cake
No complaining of too many dishes while cooking. No sneak eating my ingredients. All. Mine.
Much of what I have been experimenting with is for the ebook I am writing, but I came up with this interesting mix of flavors while testing. It was so good, I thought I would share to give you all a sneak peek at what I am up to. Are you surprised to see bay leaves in a cake? You should be! It's not often done. But in Western Europe, Bay leaves were widely used in baking before vanilla was around. So in the spirit of European baking, I made this cake. It is very much like what my french Aunt made for us in the mountains of France when we visited– a buttery, egg-y, grainy cake with hints of spice.
Upside Down Bay Leaf and Pear Polenta Cake
3 red Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and halved
2 Tbsp. sherry
4-5 Tbsp. water plus additional 2-3 Tbsp water
1-2 bay leaves, broken up
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup fine polenta or corn meal
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temp
3/4 cup milk
2 bay leaves
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray a 9"round cake pan with 2" sides with nonstick cooking spray. Cut a circle of parchment to size and lay on the bottom of pan. Spray again. Set aside.
In a small sauce pan, heat the milk with two bay leaves until near boil. Take off heat and cover. Steep for at least 30 minutes. The longer, the stronger the bay leaf infusion.
Meanwhile poach the pears. In a small saute add the 4-5 Tbsp. water, sherry and 2 broken bay leaves. Place pears on top of liquid, cut side down. Heat liquid until simmer and cover pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes. You should have about 1Tbsp. liquid and juice left in the pan. Remove pears and set aside to cool. Add another 2-3 Tbsp. water to pan juices and add 1/4 cup sugar. Stir until dissolved over medium heat. Boil sugar slowly for about 8 minutes, until amber color. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter quickly to create a caramel. Its up to you if you wish to keep the bay leaves in the caramel or discard them. I keep them for more flavor and visual interest at the table, discarding them as I serve the cake.
Pour caramel quickly into the parchment lined pan. Do your best to evenly cover the bottom, but it will seize up as it is cooling down. Don't worry. It will melt evenly as it cooks with the pears.
Speaking of the pears, slice them thinly and layer them over the caramel in concentric circles, overlapping them as needed. Set aside. Now mix together flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla and buttermilk. Take your infused milk and discard bay leaves. Alternating between flour mixture and milk, mix both until all is used and things are light a creamy.
Pour batter evenly over pears.
Bake for 45-60 minutes. Top should be lightly golden and toothpick in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 30 min. Then place serving platter upside down on top of pan. Carefully flip the cake and platter upside down, releasing cake onto the platter and from it's pan. Pears should be on the top. Peel off parchment and fix any pears that jumped ship-and voila! Serve warm or at room temp.
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