Giving Thanks {Pear & Pistachio Cake}

Wishing everyone who’s celebrating today a peaceful and bountiful Thanksgiving.

In our house, we have a tradition of going around the table before the Thanksgiving meal and sharing something for which we are thankful.  So, in the spirit of tradition, I thought I’d give a little thanks here, as well.

I’m thankful for family, near and far; for friends old and new, for a roof over my head and more than enough food on the table; for a job that I enjoy and colleagues who I respect; for a husband who is kind and patient; for children who are growing and thriving; for a mother who taught me in word and in action how to be a good parent and person; for health; for freedom; for love.  I’m truly blessed.

Oh, and I’m thankful for this cake.  It appeared in a piece by Cathy Barrow in the October/November issue of Garden & Gun, and it was love at first sight.  I’m turning 38 on Sunday, so I decided to bake it in celebration of Thanksgiving/being two years shy of 40.

Let’s just say that this cake is monumental.   With 12 sticks of butter in a recipe that yields 12 servings, you’re only going to want to make this for very special occasions.  But make no mistake – you’re going to want to make it.  

Conceived by Stella Parks, pastry chef at Table 310 in Lexington, KY, and the author of BraveTart, this cake is a riff on a classic carrot cake.  Sort of.  In the headnotes for the recipe in the magazine, Parks is quoted: “My parents live in a home built before George Washington was president,” she says. “There are gnarled old pear trees out back—winter pears. Way too hard to eat, but they make a great cake.”  With three pounds of pears in the cake, and more for the pear chip garnish, the cake really highlights this seasonal ingredient.  Paired (peared?) with the pound of brown butter and an equal measure of pistachios, the flavors combine to create a warm harmony that sings of autumn.

It’s a little time consuming, but it’s well worth it in the end.  I promise – it’ll be one more thing to add to your list of things to be thankful for.

Get the recipe here:  Stella Parks’ Brown Sugar, Pear & Pistachio Cake

Holiday gift ideas: Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is one of my favorite cookie recipes ever.  It can be adapted in so many ways, and the cookies always turn out chewy and delicious.  Whether you choose to incorporate chocolate chips, tree nuts, peanuts, candied fruit, or (as in the case of this post) dried cranberries and white chocolate, the end result is always wonderful.

The recipe actually comes from a Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies cookbook from 2000.  I think my husband picked it up many years ago from the bargain section of the large chain bookstore for which he works.  I have tried several of the recipes from this book, and all of them have been successful (I especially like the Lemon Pistachio Biscotti), but this is the one I return to time and time again.

This year I’ve adapted it slightly, in that I subbed white whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose, and I used a combination of dark and light brown sugar instead of the light brown sugar and granulated sugar the recipe called for.  The reasons for this are two-fold: first, I’m trying to cut down on the amount of refined flour I use for baking; second, because of the addition of whole wheat flour (which doesn’t absorb moisture as readily as its all-purpose counterpart), I needed to increase the amount of moisture in the mix – brown sugar contains molasses, which has hygroscopic properties, and the darker the sugar, the more molasses it contains.

In years past, I’ve used Craisins and white chocolate chips in this recipe.  This year, I had a new toy I wanted to try out, so I did things a little differently.  As a late birthday/early Christmas present, my mother gifted me a fancy new food dehydrator.  I had a huge bag of fresh cranberries, so I decided I was going to make my own unsweetened dried cranberries.  It took quite a bit of trial and error (and two or three days of drying time – not because my dehydrator doesn’t work but because I apparently can’t read directions very well), but I was finally left with dried cranberries.

Now, they are VERY DRY.  Not leathery like Craisins, but dry like freeze-dried fruit tends to be. You could grind them and have cranberry powder (which, believe you me, I’m tempted to do and see what I can do with it).  So, for this application, I decided to reconstitute them a bit using about a cup of hot apple cider and a tablespoon or so of Agave nectar.  I just let a cup and half of the dried fruit steep in the cider mixture until they were soft.  Then I drained them and drank the residual cider – it tasted wonderfully of cranberry and apple, with just a hint of added sweetness from the Agave.  It makes me think you could make cranberry tea from the dried cranberries, sweeten it slightly with honey or agave and have a lovely warm winter beverage.

I also decided to use chopped white chocolate instead of chips.  The chunks of white chocolate held up better during baking than the chips do, and the flakes that result from the chopping get incorporated throughout, lending a bit of white chocolate flavor to every bite.

Last, but not least, I grated about a teaspoon of orange zest into the mix, just to perk up the flavor a bit.
  Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
prep time: 25 minutes
bake time: 9 minutes
yields: 80 cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 cups whole-wheat flour
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
4 oz. white chocolate, chopped
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F
  2. Line cookie sheets with silpats
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the sugar, baking powder and baking soda; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  5. Beat in the eggs, milk, vanilla and orange zest until well combined
  6. Add the flour gradually, with the mixer on low speed
  7. Add the oats
  8. Add the cranberries and white chocolate.  You may have to incorporate this using a wooden spoon – the batter will be quite stiff at this point.
  9. Drop by rounded tablespoons two inches apart onto your prepared cookie sheets
  10. Bake at 375F for 9 minutes, or until edges are golden, but centers are soft.
  11. Cool on cookie sheet for on minute; transfer to a rack to cool

The resulting cookies are chewy, soft and full of flavor.  The whole-wheat flour gives them a bit of a bite, but not so much as to be distracting.  The cranberries are just tart enough to contrast nicely with the sweetness of the white chocolate, and the oats give great texture.  Feel free to substitute with the add-ins of your choice – these are such versatile cookies, and they would be a great addition to any holiday cookie swap.