As is typical, this is not the cake I set out to make.
No, the cake I set out to make was an old fashioned applesauce cake. I even made my own applesauce. And then I ate it.
Of course, this meant more work on my part, when the beauty of the applesauce cake is that it uses something you probably already have around. But nooooo. I had to go and make it more complicated. Seriously, I can’t even make toast these days without producing a huge pile of dirty dishes, pans, and utensils.
You don’t have to make it complicated. You can make this cake with applesauce, and you don’t have to brown the butter.
But brown butter is delicious!
It’s true that it doesn’t behave exactly like fresh butter; any time butter is melted, the texture is irrevocably changed. But I love the flavor it imparts in baking. You’ll need to start with more than you will ultimately need, because some volume is lost as it bubbles on the stove. In recipes that call for melted butter, simply keep cooking the butter after it has melted until it browns. In recipes that call for soft butter (like this one), pour the melted, browned butter into a container and let it cool and solidify. Use what you need and save the rest for another project, or to toss with vegetables (hello, winter squash) or pasta.
This is not a fancy cake, though you could dress it up: Frost it with cream cheese frosting, serve it with these pears and some whipped cream or ice cream. Or you can do as I have been doing, and just eat it straight from the pan.
Pear, Prune and Brown Butter Cake
(Adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
For the pears and prunes:
6 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1″ chunks
6 plump prunes, pitted and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cinnamon stick
a few whole cloves
1/4 c water
for the cake:
1 3/4 c all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 t salt
4 oz (1/2 c) solid brown butter, at room temperature (see recipe instructions)
1 c packed brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 c of the pear/prune mix, at room temperature
1. Cook the fruit: Put the pears, prunes, spices and water in a medium saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat until the fruit is very soft and broken down. How long this takes will depend on the variety and ripeness of the pears. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until you have a thick mash. Measure out 1 cup of this mix. (Leftovers would be nice with oatmeal or yogurt in the morning.)
2. Brown the butter: Put at least 6 oz (3/4 c) butter into a heavy bottomed saucepan or skillet and cook over medium heat until the milk solids have fallen to the bottom of the pan and have turned a deep golden brown. It should smell nutty and delicious. Measure out 1/2 cup of butter and save any extra for another use (see post). Put the 1/2 cup of brown butter into the fridge to solidify, but bring it to room temp before making the cake batter.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8 or 9″ cake pan and set aside. Sift together the flour, spices, salt, and soda and set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, or with a hand held mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and continue mixing until the mix is light and creamy, 1 or 2 minutes more, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the butter and mix on low speed until just combined. Add one half of the pear/prune mash and mix again on low speed until just combined. Repeat these steps, finishing with the last third of the dry ingredients.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake 25-35 minutes, until the tip of a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Notes: This cake can be made a day in advance and kept, well-wrapped, at room temperature. You can use light or dark brown sugar — dark will give it a darker color and slight molasses flavor. If you use applesauce, make sure it is only lightly sweetened or unsweetened. You can bake this cake in a different size or shape of pan, but the baking time will be different.