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Poppy and Pear Lemon Cake

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My grandmother, mother's mother, was famous in the large circle of her friends and relatives for her cakes. Cakes that were sheer perfection, a hard-to-come-by luxury that made one forget, I suppose, about the meagerness of one's world, about supermarkets, laundry, quarrelsome neighbors, broken water pipes, small children unwilling to do homework, grown-up children with no apartment to start their own life, about dachas with potato fields that will soon need tilling, about the lousy weather, and the unfulfilled dreams of one's youth. I'm only guessing, of course, that my grandmother's cakes were a delicious nepenthe for her guests. But there is no doubt, that I have decades to cross, before I could possess a fraction of her undisputed mastery. Especially because it is such a challenge, I continue to bake. And this weekend my experiment was quite successful (in cases when it's not, ravenous programmers at work are the sure solution for assimilating something sweet).

What you need:
1 cup flour 
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 egg yokes
4 egg whites
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup pear juice (other juice will do)
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup chopped dried pears
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp poppy seeds

How to do it:
To make the batter, you will need three bowls. In one bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking powder. Then, separate the eggs, placing whites and yokes into two separate large mixer bowls. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees.

1. Beat the whites with the cream of tartar until there are hard peaks. You can do this with a hand whisk, but you will need the fanatical determination of Julia Child. Or, you can use a whisk attachment on a mixer. The cream of tartar helps to stabilize the egg whites, making them a bit more reliable.
2. Mix juice, oil, lemon juice and egg yokes. Pour in the flour mixture and mix with a mixer until homogeneous. Add chopped pears and poppy seeds and mix with a spoon.
3. Pour the dough into the egg whites, and fold in with a spatula until incorporated. Pour this into a non-stick, ungreased (numerous recipes claim this to be important for this type of batter, but I have not checked) cake pan with a removable bottom. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and place into the oven.
4. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden chopstick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. When the cake is done, let it rest for an hour. Then, first wedge the knife between the sides of the cake and the pan, only then open up the pan. This will prevent the cake from tearing if it is stuck to the side of the pan. Similarly, you may need to wedge the knife between the cake bottom and the pan bottom before lifting the cake off.

Very soft and aromatic, with the additional pear sweetness, and the texture of poppy seeds, this is a perfect addition to a Saturday afternoon tea. Or any other tea, for that matter.

This is essentially a chiffon cake batter with a few additions to make it interesting without frosting. For this cake, I simplified the method from Peterson's "Baking", which functions as an encyclopedia for many types of dough, but is missing cross-cut close ups for most recipes, which makes me a bit suspicious of the cook.

The best lemon to use is the meyer lemon, which is sweeter, thinner-skinned and more flavorful than the extra-acid tough-skinned supermarket variety.

1 comment:

Nadia S. said...

Looks cool (in all aspects):)Did you hire a professional photographer?..
One remark: I always thought one folds egg whites into batter, not vice versa. If you pour batter into whipped egg whites, it might flatten it and release precious bubbles of air so much needed for lightness of the cake. Was it in the recipe?

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