Tuesday, February 27, 2007

WHB: Ginger-Pear-Saffron Cake

One of the most popular (and long-running) events in the food blog world is Weekend Herb Blogging started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. I always learn about new and interesting vegetables, herbs and spices through this event, but don't get around to participating much. Now, I am going to use WHB as a motivation to write about some new foods as they find their way into my kitchen.

My obsession with wanting to make this particular dessert started the minute I glanced at this picture and recipe in the November 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I just *dearly* wanted to make this beauty of a cake: studded with pears (V's favorite fruit) and the color of sunshine because of the saffron. I also imagined that the pairing of pear with ginger would be spicy and delicious. Last weekend, I was assigned to bring dessert to a large potluck-style party. This was just the perfect opportunity to try a new recipe on some unsuspecting guinea pigs!

The recipe called for a few ingredients that I never keep on hand: candied ginger, ground ginger and buttermilk. Thus was the candied ginger introduced into my kitchen for the first time. I bought it from Trader Joe's and the ingredient list was gratifyingly short: just ginger and sugar.
Candied ginger is a simple form of preserved ginger where the ginger is boiled in sugar syrup and dried. You can certainly make your own using a recipe like the one on this page. Generally, after soaking, the candied ginger is rolled in more sugar, resulting in crystallized candied ginger but the one from TJ's is uncrystallized and smooth. I prefer not having that extra sugar, actually.
What can you use candied ginger for? A combination of candied ginger and ground dried ginger gives a great spicy kick to any ginger-flavored sweet food like ginger cakes, gingerbread, ginger shortbread or ginger pancakes. Or this decadent chocolate-ginger tartlet. You can just pop it into your mouth for a sweet gingery treat.

Making the Saffron-Scented Pear Upside-Down Cake...see the recipe here.
1. I pulsed together saffron and sugar to make, well, saffron sugar. It smells so good! The saffron sugar was creamed with butter and spread on the bottom of an oiled pan. I needed to make two cakes to feed the crowd, so I doubled the recipe.
2. Layering the pear slices: now this was the tricky part. The recipe called for Comice pears, but I was only able to find red Anjou pear. Martha says to peel and core the pears, then thinly slice them (by hand, or using a mandoline). Well, Martha must have a much better knife than I do, as well as vastly superior knife skills, because the pears I had were too unripe to be cut into silky, thin slices. I ended up with something far uglier...this was for cake A. For cake B, I decided not to peel the pears at all, just slice them using the mandoline. Much better! The slices were layered on to the saffron-butter mixture.
3. Next: the batter. This contained buttermilk, eggs and vegetable oil but no butter, and was liberally sprinkled with minced candied ginger and ground ginger. The batter was poured into the pans, and into the oven they went.

As I started cleaning the kitchen after popping the pans into the oven, I clapped my hands to my forehead: I had forgotten to add vanilla extract! The next 40 minutes were spent trying to come up with a way to remedy this. A google search of "forgot vanilla cake trouble-shooting" and other such incoherent phrases yielded no useful information. As the cake baked, the lack of the warm vanilla scent kept reminding me of my foolish omission. I decided to taste the cake, and if it tasted eggy, or if I really missed the vanilla, I would make some honey-vanilla whipped cream to serve with it.

This is what the cakes looked like: Cake A, the ugly one:

Cake B, slightly prettier:

The verdict: I tasted a generous slice from cake A ( resulting in the pac-man-like avatar seen here) and was relieved to find that with the ginger and saffron, I barely missed the vanilla. The cake was quite delicious with a surprisingly prominent saffron taste. The pear layer was too skimpy; next time I will layer the pears on some more, and might use riper pears for a more fruity taste. I think this cake would be best served as a snack, at brunch or tea-time. It does not work so well as an after-dinner dessert by itself, but may work with some caramel sauce or a fruit compote.

And now I have all this buttermilk to use up. What is your favorite recipe using buttermilk? Has anyone tried using store-bought cultured buttermilk in Indian recipes for "kadhi" style recipes? Thanks for your ideas!


  1. What a great post, with fantastic photos. I love saffron and am quite intrigued by the idea of combining it with pears. I've used this type of candied ginger, even used it to replace ginger root a few times when I discovered I didn't have any ginger root.

    I have to confess that the thing I use buttermilk for the most is to make ranch dressing with a packet mix. So very un blogworthy, but I'm a sucker for that ranch dressing.

  2. One of the great secrets in my pantry is powdered buttermilk, which comes in small packets and eliminates that leftover-buttermilk syndrome. I use it in an apple spice bread. Hooray for candied ginger, another treasure from Trader Joe's!

  3. Nup,
    both the cakes look equally pretty too me.
    Good job

  4. The cake looks pretty fruity. Good job!

    I have made the kadhi in past using the storebrought buttermilk and it turned out to be just fine. So you can surely give it a try.


  5. WOW..that looks yummy. Will h ave to try this one soon.
    And I do use buttermilk often at home. When there is a lot leftover I make kadhi. The taste is very similar to the one made with the home-made buttermilk. But make sure you taste for salt as the store-bought ones are a little salty.

  6. I adore the tart with the skins left on...visually it's VERY striking.

    Whenever I have leftover buttermilk, I'm so happy! I take my soonest opportunity to make Buttermilk Biscuits. There's a long history behind these biscuits, but let's just say...they're delicious and one of my most requested recipes. I love them because you don't even need to roll them out. Rustic and freeform...buttery deliciousness.

    By the time it reached me, it had been passed along several times. I think it was originally a Cook's Illustrated recipe.

    Here you go:

    Buttermilk Biscuits

    Makes 12 Biscuits
    Nonstick Cooking Spray

    2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
    1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
    1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    ½ teaspoon table salt
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    5 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into small
    1 ½ cups buttermilk cold, preferably low fat

    To form Biscuits
    1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces),
    distributed in rimmed baking sheet
    2 tablespoons SALTED butter, melted

    Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to
    500 degrees. Spray a 9” round cake pan with nonstick
    cooking spray; set aside. Generously spray inside and
    outside of ¼ cup dry measure with nonstick cooking

    For the dough: In a food processor, pulse flour,
    baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda to
    combine, about six 1 second pulses. Scatter butter
    cubes evenly over dry ingredients; pulse until mixture
    resembles pebbly, coarse cornmeal, eight to ten 1
    second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add
    buttermilk to dry ingredients and stir with rubber
    spatula until just incorporated.

    To form and bake biscuits: Using ¼ cup dry measure and
    working quickly, scoop level amount of dough; drop
    from measure cup into flour on baking sheet (if dough
    sticks, use small spoon to pull it free). Repeat with
    remaining dough, forming 12 evenly sized mounds. Dust
    hands, gently pick up each piece of dough and coat
    with flour; gently shape dough into ball, shake off
    excess flour and place in prepared cake pan. Repeat
    with remaining dough. Brush rounds with hot melted
    butter, taking care not to flatten them. Bake 5
    minutes at 500 degrees, then reduce oven temperature
    to 450 degrees; continue to bake until biscuits are
    deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer. Cool in
    pan 2 minutes, then invert onto serving plate.

  7. Hi Nupur! I am a silent reader and love your recipes. This recipe sounds great. I make a carrot ginger cake a month ago and used candied ginger and ginger powder. Yummy cake with low fat cream cheese icing.

    I use a lot of store bought butter milk in traditional South Indian recipes like - mor kozhambu ( a kadhi like side dish with ground coconut, chillies, jeera), of course you can make some raita with onions to go with pulav........ and so much more.

  8. Hi Nupur,

    I regularly read your posts and really enjoy them. The cake looks really yummy. The cake has a really good glaze on top & i think i will try it.

    As far as store bought buttermilk goes, I have tried all of them & the finaly verdict is TG LEE butter milk.

    I regularly make kadi or rajasthani gatte ki sabzi or for that matter many of the indian buttermilk dishes. The outcome of TGLEE is very creamy and delicious. I hope this is of some help.

  9. yummy cake...
    the easiest recipe for buttermilk is

    1 cup buttermilk
    2-3 tablespoons plain yogurt
    add salt and sugar
    whisk these together

    make fodni(tadka) of following in 2-3 tbsp oil...
    2-3 red chillis
    1 tbsp jeera
    1 tbsp mustard(mohri)
    kadipatta leaves

    when tadka sizzles ,pour over the buttermilk misture and lastlt garnish with plenty of cilantro ....
    let me know if you like it?

  10. Hi Nupur,
    The cakes look delightful...especially the last one. I made a pear-ginger cake too a while back(http://trialsnerror.blogspot.com/2006/08/pear-ginger-cake.html) and was delighted to find that powdered ginger works great with pears. Isn't it wonderful when you discover new things in your kitchen :)
    As for buttermilk, the simplest way to finish it up is to use it in a mango lassi....I've never tried buttermilk in India curries before so I don't know how good they'll turn out.

  11. Never used candied ginger and saffron in a cake before. Sounds very interesting. Great pics and both the cakes look lovely. Heres a recipe for Buttermilk crepes from vegetarian times that you might like. http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/recipe_details.cfm?recipe_id=9776&searchparam=buttermilk

  12. nupur,

    butter milk + fresh/frozen fruit in a blender with a dash of honey = lassi-like unit wih lots of flavour.

    sailu's majjiga:

    that cake is gorgeousness incarnate.


  13. Thanks for hosting, Kalyn! And I really don't eat salad often enough, so I am going to remember the ranch dressing idea!

    Lydia, that is a fantastic tip...will certainly look for powdered buttermilk from now on! Your apple spice bread looks so delicious.

    Thanks, Bilbo :)

    Priya, yes, it is so worth a try...

    Priya, thanks for the salt tip...I totally forgot that the store-bought stuff is already salted.

    Seattle Tall Poppy...how sweet are you to share your favorite recipe (so nice and detailed too)? I am going to try it soon...any ideas what vegetarian main course would go well with biscuits? I'm thinking...maybe the biscuits would be a nice side for some lentil-vegetable stew??

    Hi Anon, I do know and love mor kozambu! And your carrot ginger cake sounds delicious. thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

    Hi LP...gatte ki sabzi sounds sooo good. I have not tried my hands at much Rajasthani cooking. Love the idea!

    Supriya, yes, that tastes so good with some rice. I used to make this "masala dahi" thing...but have not made it for a while. thanks for reminding me!

    Nabeela, great tips! yes, powdered ginger is wonderful stuff!

    Hi Pavani, love those crepes! and vegetarian times has other buttermilk recipes that look great too...thanks for leading me there.

    Bee, nice suggestions! thanks for stopping by!

  14. Hi Nupur, I just have to say that your cakes look far more beautiful than Martha's -- no contest! Love the contrast of color on the second one with the pear skin left on. Did you save us a slice? :)

  15. looks yummilicious. i love the way the pear's gone translucent!

  16. extra / leftover buttermilk = taaka polo (taak is buttermilk, polo is a pancake / dosa of sorts in konkani)

    mix various flours - we use wheat flour, maida, rice flour and rava. add chopped onions, g chillies, karipatta, grated ginger and the like. add enough buttermilk to make a dosa batter. not too thin.

    make dosas.

    - d

  17. Hi Nupur,
    Lovely cake.I cooked your vaalache birdhe with Roti.It was great.We ate more vaalache birde than roti!Thank you for sharing the traditional recipe.I would like to get some tips on getting the whole vaal instead of half ones while peeling.Thank You.

  18. The cakes look absolutely delightful!! love the contrast in the 2nd. cake!!

  19. Every Sunday morning, I make buttermilk pancakes for my kids, from the Joy of Cooking:

    1 1/2 cups flour
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups buttermilk
    3 tablespoons melted butter
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 tablespoons wheat germ (not in the Joy recipe, but I like to throw it in for "extra" nutrition)

    Mix it all together and make some pancakes! I also like to add fresh or thawed blueberries.

  20. Linda, thanks :) you know you can have a slice any old time you feel like it...just come on over!

    Jacob, yeah, I sliced it with a mandoline so it was quite thin.

    D, I do love those instant rava dosas!

    Durga, you cannot get whole vaal, and the reason is a botanical one: Vaal, like other beans, are dicots: which means the seed has two "leaves" (cotyledons) with the little embryo in between that sprouts. The two leaves are held together by the outer covering, so when you peel it off, they are no longer held together and fall apart to give you what looks like a half vaal (or to be more precise, they are held together only by the small sprout which easily breaks). In case of other beans, like kidney beans (rajma), we don't peel the bean, so we keep the halves together and the bean stays whole. Hope this makes sense! Thanks for trying the recipe!

    Manasi, yes, I thought that was pretty too :)

    Karen, thanks for sharing the recipe, and I love the addition of wheatgerm!

  21. Great looking cakes Nupur! I like the contrasting outline the pear peel makes on cake B.

  22. Great cake, beautiful colours and marvellous photos. :)

  23. Bruno, thanks...I was lucky to find those lovely red anjou pears!

    Helene...what a nice thing to say!

  24. Oone buttermilk recipe that i make sometime is khichri cooked in buttermilk to give it a tangy taste :).

    I use moong-masoor yellow daal mix, rice and a phodni/tadka with black pepper-corn, lavang, ginger (julienne), haldi and zeera and/or mustard seed. Add chopped green beans, bell-pepper, tomato or any other vegetables you enjoy.

    Try it with any hot pickle :).

  25. Dear Nupur,

    Your food blog is very nice with authentic recipes and beautiful pictures. I'd tried your pav baji recipe and it came out well. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward your posts.

  26. Nupur, Along with your Persian Lime-Green Bean Pilaf, I also baked this cake & enjoyed it. You are right abt it not being a dessert cake. Its very lite & can be served as a snack.

  27. For your convenience, just wanted to post the new link for the cake recipe coz Martha's site has moved


  28. Nandita, thank you so so much for sending me this updated link! Very observant of you! I have fixed it right away.

  29. this cake looks and sounds delicious! I love candied ginger -- if you are looking for a way to use it up I often put a piece in my hot tea for a little bit of flavor and then I have a warm spicy treat when I get to the bottom of the cup.

    I am vegan so do not use buttermilk but I often use soy milk with a splash of vinegar to mimic buttermilk and it makes for delicious fluffy cupcakes in place of milk. :c) I've got to try this cake! Thanks for the post.

  30. Hey Nupur,
    Happened upon your blog while looking up recipes using Arbi. What a delightful post this was! You seem to be a excellent cook and engaging writer to boot. If you permit, I would like to link your blog to mine. Looking forward to the next post!


  31. hi..i love the look of this cake and want to try it. I looked up the Martha Stewart recipe and it calls for lining the bottom with parchment paper....I do not see that in your recipe..Did you skip it? What was the parchment for anyways and where exactly is it applied..thanks

    love your blog
    keep writing



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