Like any dessert aficionado, I appreciate a wide range of sweets, from delicate tarts to basic sheet cakes. That said, I prefer to leave the fancier stuff to the true experts. We could all probably make a beautiful dacquoise if we really tried and put the effort into it, but I have a feeling that the majority of us wouldn’t be up to all the fuss that goes into making it. Maybe once, for a very special occasion, but probably never again. That’s why I’m always looking to create and share recipes that are as enjoyable to make as they are to eat. This saffron pear cake exemplifies this concept perfectly.
I use saffron quite a bit in my cooking, mostly because it adds something special to my dishes, but also because I have unlimited access to it. You may recall that I mentioned my parents are entrepreneurs and own their own business. They created the first saffron spray, Spray ‘N’ Serve® Saffron, to ever hit the market, revolutionizing the way saffron can be used by home cooks. Traditionally, saffron comes in thread (and sometimes powdered) form. It’s very costly, and often misused. The best way to get the most out of your saffron is to grind it up into a powder and dissolve it in a hot liquid. The problem is, once you do this, you only have a couple of days to use the saffron until it loses its potency. It’s also a bit of an extra step to take while cooking and can get a little messy (and expensive!), so most recipes just have you drop the threads directly into whatever you’re creating. To solve this problem, my parents dissolved pure saffron in purified water, then packaged this natural, ready-made saffron liquid in a non-aerosol spray can. The saffron lasts about 2 years with this method and can be used at the cook’s convenience, whenever they want. It’s the reason why I can not only afford saffron on a consistent basis, but it’s also why I can add it to any recipe I want at the press of a nozzle.
If you’ve never had saffron, it’s got a slightly floral, honey-like aroma that adds subtle flavor to any dish. That flavor can be a bit hard to describe, and in that sense, I like to equate it to butter; it noticeably makes food taste better, but you can’t really pinpoint what that flavor is (except saffron has 0 calories and butter has well…a lot!). The French love saffron and use it quite a bit. You can easily find saffron at even the smallest of markets in Paris. When I thought about making a gâteau aux poires (pear cake), I knew saffron would be the perfect addition. Pears are obviously a naturally sweet treat, but the bosc pears that are available during the fall have a distinct floral quality to them. I knew that the pears would highlight the sweet, floral notes of saffron and pair beautifully in this saffron pear cake.
The cake itself is a butter cake at heart, extremely moist and tender. It’s a one bowl kind of recipe that bakers of all levels can create. You don’t need a fancy pastry degree under your belt, but you’ll still get the satisfaction of making a cake from scratch. The sweet scent of butter and sugar permeating your kitchen, licking the extra batter off your spatula, and adding personal touches that make a dessert your own are all pleasures you’ll still experience with a simple recipe like this. For this saffron pear cake, I decided to do something a little different with my arrangement of pears. Rather than placing them in a radial pattern as most French cakes do, I decided to fan out the pear slices off to one side and leave the stem intact for a more rustic, artisan approach. I love when my baked goods look refined, yet clearly made at home with love. This saffron pear cake is perfect for afternoon tea, dessert, or even breakfast; you won’t be sorry you made this!
Saffron Pear Cake
- 1/2 c unsalted butter 1 stick
- 1/3 c milk
- 1 egg
- 3/4 c sugar
- 1 c all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 4 g to 5 spritzes of Spray ’N’ Serve® Saffron Spray or .25 saffron threads
- 1 in bosc pear keeping the stem intact, peeled, cored, and cut half
- 1/4 c marmalade or apricot preserves to brush on as a glaze slightly warmed
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave, or in a small saucepan. If you’re using raw saffron threads, then go ahead and warm the milk too, then add the saffron threads to this mixture to dissolve. Otherwise, simply combine the milk with the melted butter in a small bowl.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and sugar together until it’s pale yellow. Whisk in the melted butter and milk.
Add the all purpose flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk to combine.
Spray the saffron spray 4 to 5 times (holding the nozzle down for a couple of seconds each time) directly into the batter and whisk. You want the batter to change from its pale yellow color to a slightly darker orange-ish yellow.
Line the bottom of a 6 inch cake pan with parchment paper and grease the paper and sides of the pan. Pour the batter into the pan.
Bake the cake for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, grab the pear half whose stem is still intact, and carefully make vertical cuts through the pear, starting just a little bit below the stem (you want the pear slices to remain connected to the stem). Gently fan out the slices.
Pull the cake out of the oven after the 10 minutes are up and place the fanned out pear slices off to one side. Then put the cake back in the oven to bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cake slightly cool in the pan for 10 minutes before gently flipping it out of the pan. Brush the cake with the warm preserves and let the cake rest until it’s completely cool.