Pears and tart cherries team up with almond-based frangipane in a flavorful Frangipane Pear and Cherry Cake that gets even better the second day. Recipe below.
A quick editorial note before we get started. This post marks Blue Kitchen’s second anniversary. Part of me feels like I’ve been at this much longer, but mostly I feel like I’m just getting warmed up.
Last week, I used Michigan tart cherries for a heart healthy Roast Pork Tenderloin with Tart Cherries. The week before, I turned to pears for dessert, with my Baked Pears with Currants and Walnuts. So this week, naturally enough, Marion cooks with tart cherries and pears. Marion?
Frangipane for me has always been one of the most romantic of food names, hinting at elegant sensibilities refined over centuries of experiment and attention. I thought it would be something one would eat while discussing Voltaire and BHL, leaning back in a soft chair and wearing pink brocade, lightly picking at your dessert from a gold-rimmed lacy plate, using an ornate handmade utensil—a frangipannière, perhaps.
So imagine my teenaged surprise to find out that frangipane is essentially almond paste, sugar and egg, period—blended together and then used to make some other thing [such as marzipan, my mother’s favorite medium for the tiny adorable fruits that bedecked her cakes]. Hmph.
So I never actually made anything with frangipane until the other day, when I was hunting around for ideas to use some of the tart dried cherries we got last weekend in Michigan. The ancestor of this recipe, which appeared in Bon Appétit a few years back, looked like a good place to start. That original is more austere—olive oil and milk are two of its leading elements. I am usually a bit leery of olive oil in a cake—it may be healthy, but if I’ve decided to have dessert, I’ve already made the choice to indulge, and I am willing to trade off certain things in favor of better taste. Also, the original called for self-rising flour, a product that makes me suspicious. But I liked the foundation—pears, dried cherries and, of course, the frangipane.
This version of Frangipane Pear and Cherry Cake is a graceful finish to a dinner, and feels very harmonious with the season. The sweetness of the pears is cut with the tartness of the cherries, and a delicate almond flavor permeates everything. The cake is very nice made the afternoon of a dinner party, giving you plenty of time to cool it, transfer it to its serving plate and, at the last minute, sprinkle it with powdered sugar. But honestly, this is one of those rare cakes that is way better the next day. The flavors develop wonderfully, and it seems even more moist, with a delicate, delicious interplay between the fruits and the frangipane. And it’s simple too.
If you really want to serve an alcoholic drink with it, I would go with a cognac or armagnac, not a dessert wine. That would upset the balanced flavors in this cake. Or just head straight to coffee.
Frangipane Pear and Cherry Cake
Serves 8 to 10
Butter, for the pan
4 large eggs in all
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup half-and-half
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
2-1/2 cups peeled, chopped pears [2 or 3 large pears, peeled, then diced]
1-1/2 cups dried tart cherries
1/3 cup brandy or kirsch, or warm water
7 or 8 ounces of almond paste
1 tsp cinnamon
powdered sugar, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Put in a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom, then butter it too. Set aside.
Put the cherries in a flat-bottomed bowl—such as a soup plate—and pour the brandy, kirsch, or warm water over them. Let them soak for a little while to plump up and soften a bit. The first time I made this, I heated the cherries and brandy together in a small saucepan, just slightly, to encourage the process.
Separately, peel and dice the pears into another bowl.
Drain the cherries of their soaking liquid—there will not be much left—and discard it [if it is brandy or kirsch, by discard I mean drink]. Add the cherries to the bowl with the pears and stir them together.
Make the frangipane. Crumble the almond paste into a medium bowl. I had some trouble with my almond paste and ended up encouraging the process by chopping it. Add two eggs, the cinnamon and the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix this together very well with an electric hand mixer. You can mix the frangipane together manually, but it will take you ages. With the electric mixer it will take a minute. Set the frangipane aside while you prepare the batter.
In a large bowl, mix together the 2 remaining eggs, the 2/3 cup sugar, the oil, half-and-half and vanilla. Use a whisk to mix it together well. Then add the flour, baking powder and salt. Blend, then stir in the fruit. Mix together well, then pour into the prepared springform pan.
Spoon blobs of the frangipane all over the top of the batter. It isn’t truly spreadable—your goal is to place frangipane as evenly as possible all over the top surface of the still unbaked batter. The specific gravities of the batter and the frangipane are different, so the frangipane will stay on top. During baking it will sink into the very top of the cake and bake there, but don’t worry, it won’t slide all the way down to the bottom.
Bake about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few little crumbs attached.
Remove from the oven, place on a rack and immediately slide a knife all around the edge to loosen it. Let the cake cool in the pan about 20 minutes. Then release the sides, removing the springform ring. After the cake has cooled completely, carefully remove it from the pan bottom, gently—I have an extra-long flat cake spatula that I use for bottom support in such situations. Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom and discard it [don’t recycle it—food-stained paper should not be recycled because it could contaminate an entire batch of renewed paper]. Set the cake on a flat serving plate or cake plate.
This cake is very prettied up with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. But, as always, make sure it is totally cool before you add the sugar or it will vanish as if it never was.
Serve at room temperature.
Picking cherries. For this recipe I used dried tart Michigan cherries. I’ve seen variations of this made with dried Bing cherries, but with the sweetness of the pears, this cake needs a bit of acidity. If you can only find dried Bing cherries, then I recommend adding a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice to the fruit.
Pick a pear. For pears, I used barely ripe Anjou pears, which were the ones at the market that looked the best. But Bosc pears, as long as they are not heavily ripe, would be nice. Forelles, which always look like they just arrived in your hand straight from a Cezanne still life, would be nice too, if you can stop staring at their beautiful outsides.
Okay. And pick your oil. Rather than using the extra-light olive oil called for in the original, I went for the security of canola oil, to reduce the chances of intrusive olive oil flavor, and I chose half-and-half for the bit of extra richness. I might try this with olive oil, one day, if I were confident that it was mild enough, but the half-and-half really was wonderful in here.
Buying almond paste. Sometimes you can find it in 7-ounce tubes. In that case, use up a whole tube. In our area, it usually comes packaged in 10-ounce cans. That’s fine with me. I don’t mind having a little almond paste left over. You can use it to dot the tops of simple cookies, or on French toast, or spread thinly on toast with a little cinnamon—kind of super-cinnamon toast.