There’s something about a rainy day in fall. Most of the trees are completely bare, their black, lichened branches hovering uncertainly against the grey sky, but some still revel in a subtle glory of tarnished yellow and onionskin brown. I watch from the seventh floor as people move along the sodden sidewalks below; tiny specks beneath their bobbing umbrellas.
After work I wander through Back Bay as the sky darkens to orange-grey. The browntstones on either side of the wide street glow cheerfully from within. I love this time of day, when people huddle against the growing cold, rushing this way and that toward home, a dimly lit bar, a loved one. I take in snippets of other peoples’ lives as I walk; brief, fragmented vignettes into front parlors, window seats, and turret-like bedrooms. One living room is downright boastful, with two crystal chandeliers and several extravagant urns. I wonder: could a person ever be cozy in a room full of urns?
I make my way back home through the rainy night to my second-story apartment on a quiet street in Jamaica Plain. My roommates greet me with a familiar ‘HellOOO-oooooo’ as I climb the stairs. I shed my jacket and boots as the pipes wheeze and clank, bringing our ancient, hulking radiators to life. In this kind of weather, and with so much tragedy in the world, I am acutely grateful for the everyday routines I usually take for granted. The sound of the radiators. A hot shower. The chipped blue and white mug that reminds me of my childhood. Our awkward futon that feels more like a boat than a couch. Living with people I truly love.
When the world seems to be falling completely apart, I focus on things that still make sense. I bake and practice gratitude. I try to generate love and send it out into the world, just as a cake warms the kitchen with the healing smells of sugar and butter.
Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote and Orange-Infused Whipped Cream
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, 1997)
The original cake called for dried fruit (apricots and prunes), but I’m not ready to succumb quite so thoroughly to winter yet. I swapped the dried fruit for ripe pears and crystallized ginger, made the compote into a cake topping, and added some toasted hazelnuts for warmth. This cake looks like a glowing garnet pendant and is perfect for a rainy November evening.
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 Firm-ripe Anjou Pears
4 Pieces crystallized ginger
1 cup cake flour (if you’re like me and can’t justify buying a whole bag of specialty flour for one recipe, there’s an easy fix: measure out one cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons, and replace with either corn starch or arrowroot powder. Make sure to sift at least 4 times! Learn more about this flour substitution here)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs room temperature
1 cup buttermilk (when I don’t have buttermilk on hand, I substitute 1/2 cup regular whole milk and 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt)
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 tablespoon sugar
Zest of 1 orange
Whipped Cream (whip 3/4 Cup heavy cream with the grated zest of one orange and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Prepare the fruit: melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron pan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, cook until it’s dissolved, then remove the pan from the heat.
- Slice the pears into thin half moons and cut ginger into diamond shapes. Arrange the pears and ginger over the bottom of the pan.
- Make the batter: mix the sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth. Scrape down the bowl, stir again to blend in any bits of butter, then stir in the buttermilk (on low speed or with a spoon). Add the dry ingredients in thirds to the butter mixture. Scrape up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure it’s well mixed.
- Assemble the cake: smooth the batter over the fruit.
- Bake: Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake until springy to the touch and beginning to pull away from the pan (about 35 minutes). Let cool for a few minutes, then invert onto a cake plate.
- While the cake is baking, sprinkle the pomegranate sees with a tablespoon sugar and the grated zest of one orange. Stir to incorporate, cover and refrigerate
- Once the cake is cool, spread the sugared pomegranate seeds over the top, pressing gently so the seeds don’t roll everywhere.
- Top with orange-zest whipped cream to serve.