“In a perfect world…” I find myself falling back on that phrase a lot lately. Been having a bit of an internal whine-fest, stomping around grumpily because it feels like things are more uphill slog than downhill jog these days. So when my days are less happy than sad, less confident than scared I try to think of what that “perfect world” might look like. Doesn’t necessarily make things better, but it does help pass the time and brighten my mood on long hikes when I’m cranky and whining to squirrels.
Of course the obvious perfect world requests that no one would get sick, suffer loss, hunger or fear always apply. So would the perfection of always being near enough to loved ones to score a hug whenever needed. There’d always be more than enough of whatever is lacking – money, time, love, laughter, peace. But what if you dove in deeper? Here’s just a few ideas I’ve come up with lately:
In a perfect world;
- calories would magically reduce when butter, cream or bacon are added to a dish;
- every swipe of my debit card would immediately be replenished (with 25% interest) from Donald Trump’s campaign fund account. And yes, I’d go on a shopping spree. BIG one;
- Kardashians would still do stuff, but no one would watch, or care;
- differing views on politics, religion, or sports would be well reasoned and discussed with respect toward all opinions, and if that could not be accomplished things would just be settled with a dance-off.
- the only polar icecaps melting would be the one in the back of my freezer, and;
- every day at around 4PM, there would be kaffee and kuchen.
I grew up in a world not necessarily more perfect, but one that often included the calm late afternoon break of caffeine and something sweet. As a kid who loved any break involving food, that world seemed pretty perfect to me. Call it afternoon tea or kaffee und kuchen, it was the time when the world slowed a little and you could recharge your battery before heading into the rest of the day. My grandmother was a firm believer in kaffee und kuchen. Actually, my grandmother was a firm believer in dessert after every meal, but I seem to remember afternoon kuchen the best. If you were lucky enough to stop by her home around 4, you’d likely be sitting in front of a cup and saucer of white porcelain with tiny blue flowers, a slice of cake on your plate, and the most pressing stress you’d have to deal with is deciding with or without whipped cream. With, always.
So I suggest in today’s imperfect world of too much information, too little respectful reasoned debate, and a 24/7 technology stream attached to the end of our hands, that we reinstitute kaffee and kuchen time. No technology, just cake and conversation. I’m betting the world won’t end if we all took an hour break in the late afternoon. It might even make it just a little bit more perfect.
Since most of us don’t have the time in our busy worlds to bake a cake every day I’m sharing one that can last a few days, provided you don’t leave a knife on the plate for hungry passersby. The inspiration for this cake was a recipe for Farm Apple Cake I found in Bon Appetit magazine many years ago. Heavy on the butter and eggs (1&1/2 sticks butter, 4 eggs), this cake is dense but not overly sweet, with fruit both mixed in the batter and sliced on top. It also has no leavening in it other than the air whipped into the butter and the eggs as they are added, giving it an almost velvety rich texture, and a bit of a crispy meringue-ish top.
I’ve adapted the original recipe to pears instead of apples (thus the name change) since that’s what I had on hand, upped the spice a little and subbed cognac for the Vin Santo the original recipe used. It’s perfect for afternoon tea, makes a great morning coffeecake, and since Rosh Hashanah begins this evening, would be a lovely addition to any sweet New Year celebration.
ORCHARD PEAR CAKE (Adapted from Bon Appetit, Farm Apple Cake,1998)
Makes 8-10 servings
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 3/4 tsp salt
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tsp orange or lemon zest
- 2 cups plus 1 tbsp sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 3 tbsp Cognac
- 1 medium pear, peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/3 –inch pieces
- 2 pears, peeled, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously butter 10-inch springform pan. Dust pan with four, tap out excess.
Whisk flour, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and citrus peel in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups sugar, beating until mixture is well blended and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended. (Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled – it will smooth out when the dry ingredients are added.) Mix in all but 1 tbsp flour mixture, then cognac. Toss 1/3-inch pear pieces with 1 tbsp flour mixture in small bowl; add to batter.
Transfer batter to pan. Place sliced pears in overlapping rings atop cake. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar.Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, covering loosely with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Run a small knife around cake to loosen. Release pan sides; cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome; store at room temperature).
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