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Buttermilk Cake with Riesling-Poached Pears. Photo © Michael Turek
© Michael Turek

Buttermilk Cake with Riesling-Poached Pears

  • ACTIVE: 40 MIN
  • TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 40 MIN
  • SERVINGS: 10
  • MAKE-AHEAD
  • STAFF-FAVORITE

"We get these crazy organic pears that are ugly as sin," says Tory Miller of the Moon-glow variety he uses throughout the cold winter months. Peeling them, though, reveals a fruit so beautiful and juicy that he prefers a minimalist approach, either serving them raw or poaching them in wine, such as the Riesling he uses here.

Cake

  1. 2 cups cake flour
  2. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  4. 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  5. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  6. 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  7. 4 large egg yolks
  8. Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  9. 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  10. 2/3 cup buttermilk

Pears

  1. 5 Bartlett pears
  2. One 750-milliliter bottle Riesling
  3. 1 cup water
  4. 1 cup sugar
  5. 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  6. One 3-inch-long strip of orange zest
  7. 3 star anise pods

Vanilla Crème Fraîche

  1. 1 cup crème fraîche
  2. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  3. 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  4. 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line it with a 9-inch round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the butter with both sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla extract. At low speed, alternately beat in the flour mixture and the buttermilk until almost blended. With a rubber spatula, finish folding the mixture together just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool completely.
  3. Peel and halve the pears. With a spoon, scoop out the cores and discard. In a large saucepan, combine the Riesling, water, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, orange zest and star anise pods. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear halves and simmer over moderate heat, turning once, until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pears to a large plate. Discard the star anise, vanilla bean and orange zest. Boil the Riesling poaching liquid over high heat until reduced to 1 cup and syrupy, about 15 minutes. When the pears have cooled, slice them lengthwise 1/3 inch thick.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the crème fraîche, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds and confectioners' sugar.
  5. Unmold the cake onto a plate and peel off the paper. Cut the cake into 10 wedges and transfer to plates. Place a sliced pear half alongside each cake slice. Spoon some of the Riesling syrup over the cake, top with some vanilla crème fraîche and serve.
Make Ahead The cake can be kept in an airtight container overnight. The pears, Riesling syrup and crème fraîche can be refrigerated separately overnight.

Suggested Pairing

When a recipe calls for a specific type of wine in the ingredients—in this case, Riesling—pairing the dish with the same type of wine tends to work quite well. For this tender cake, choose a sweet Riesling like a late-harvest bottling or an icewine.

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