Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the Muffin Em-pear

Since I bought some sweet, firm pears at the farmers' market this past Saturday, I've been wanting to make a cake. I just didn't know which one.

Would it be the classic pear butter cake that my friend Mitch Heat loves so well? Would it be the pear-hazelnut torte found in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors (a divine combination!)? Or would it end up more like the pear-chèvre crumb cake I developed earlier this year?

Tough choice! And it seemed like the longer I waited to bake, the tougher the choice got.

Last night, though, I finally made the time, stepping right into the kitchen as soon as I got home for work. And the choice was... yes.

Actually, I decided to make cupcake-sized versions of the crumb cake, minus the goat cheese and balsamic vinegar, and I added chopped hazelnuts to the streusel topping and laid one wedge of pear on top.

There was only one problem with the plan.

My muffin tins are not of the oversized variety, and so the combination of vinegar-leavened batter, pear, and streusel resulted in the baking version of a fallen souffle or an overambitious pull of Guinness.

The portion of batter and streusel that puffed up and over the confines of the muffin cups baked to a hard, sugary crust, and it made it impossible to pull the cakes out of the cups. I ended up digging it all out with a spoon and serving one cake's worth of crumbs in a bowl for my dessert.

Sometimes that happens, you know. You know the recipe, you know the hazards, you know what your skills and pans can handle... and yet, your ambitious ideas get ahead of you and leave you with a mess. Things don't always turn out beautiful and perfect, even in the kitchens of the most experienced cooks.

But what a glorious mess! The cakes still turned out moist and rich, despite being vegan, and the combination of pear and hazelnut and cinnamon with all the rest made for a satisfying taste experience, if not for visual beauty.

I took a dish of the pear crumb, er, crumble to the Chef Mother when I visited her at the hospital at lunchtime today, and her first taste of the dessert confirmed my own opinion: it's a damn fine cake, even in a messy state.

Perfection is overrated... but pear cake in any form is still pearfectly fine!



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