Skip to main content


Pear And Pecan Tea Cakes – An Afternoon With Grandma

Pear - Pecan Cakes

I’d like to dedicate this post to another great lady, Bri who passed away last night. My sincere condolences to her husband and her family.

A post I was reading the other week prompted me to take out my grandmother’s china and silverware out of their cases and bring them to life for a little while. The time of a dessert, a picture or a post. The time of a memory I might give my mother about a certain time in her past. I know I’ll never be as creative as Pia in styling and setting the mood for the pieces I inherited but the moment was right to polish those spoons and dust off those cups.

I started to take pictures of the spoons on their own and although pretty, something was missing. I made some tea and hoped that the smell and relaxing atmosphere would inspire me a little. It was allright…not bad, there was still that little "je ne sais quoi" missing. I took a step back and tried to remember the last time I had seen my grandmother use those pieces. Had I? Ever? No, not really….So I tried to imagine grandma holding that cup of tea in one hand, swirling her sugar and lemon slice, spoon in the other. That’s when it hit me! Cake! The one thing missing was one of my grandmother’s tea cakes!

I cannot remember a day without going to her house for a 4 o’clock cup of tea and a slice of cake! There was never a shortage of pretty china and silverware, although I strongly suspect she had secretively put these cups and spoons away for me. Yes, they are just things….and they fell on my lap pretty much the same way they did on hers: they were all handed down from many women before me. If they weren’t in our family, well eh, no big deal. But they are, and they are old, and they speak a little bit of my past and the women in the family every time I take them out, to me it is a big deal. I find it magical that every time I look at them, I can’t wait for 4 o’clock to come around so I can make myself a cup of tea and have some cake.

I started to think about the cake that would reflect the mood around grandma’s table at tea time. Tense! Really! It seems like we were always planning some kind of event, party, celebration, vacation..something. It was also very warm and playful. Mamie Paulette was indeed a study in contradictions. Tense, but with a great sense of humor and a joyous personality. Those little pear and pecan cakes with their little skirt of roasted pear slices are just that. They are a little tense if you don’t bake often but they do not require major scientific knowledge (we all know I would not be baking them if they did!), no intricate technique (nothing wrong with that, just short on time these days!), or special ingredients (nothing wrong here either, grandma just happened to love pears). They also tend to look like roses….like the ones on grandma’s little spoons.

The pear cakes start with a basic cake batter in which I threw chunks of pears and chopped pecans but feel free to use the same dessert with plums, apples, peaches, etc…. For the pear slices, make sure to cut them thin and choose pears of the same size if you can. Slice them first and use the end pieces and short slices, chopped, in the cakes. I used regular size muffin pans but one cup capacity ramequins or baking dished work well too. The tense part of the dessert comes when you position the pear slices around the cakes. Arm yourself with patience and have some bakery twine or rafia strings close by, wrap them around the slices, tie them up and let the cakes sit for 20 minutes. After that time, you can either remove the twine if you think you guests won’t like it, and the slices will stick to the sides of the cakes on their own, of if your friends like ribbons as much as mine do, by all means, leave them be. Well, I did use some hot sugar (I guess I can’t help myself) as I sprinkled some pecan praline on the plates before serving, but you can skip that step of course.

Pear Cakes and Grandma's China

Pear And Pecan Tea Cakes With Pecan Praline:

Makes 8 muffin size tea cakes.

For the roasted pear slices:
8 pears
1/3 cup of sugar

Preheat the oven to 300F. Peel the pears and cut them in thin slices. Reserve the small slices and meaty pieces from what is left on the stem for the cake batter. Place the pear slices on parchment line baking sheet and sprinkle them with the sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.

For the tea cakes:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
remnant pear slices and pieces from the pears used in the previous step, chopped, plus more if needed to make one cup.

In a mixer, combine the sugar, oil, and egg and whisk with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking soda and cinnamon and whisk until the batter starts to come together. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. By hand, fold in the pecans and pears. Divide the batter evenly among 8 muffin cups sprayed with cooking spray and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes back free of crumbs. Let cool.
Arrange the cooled roasted pear slices around the cake and secure with bakery twine (use butcher twine if you don’t plan on serving them tied up). Refrigerate if not ready to serve within the hour. All the elements will keep fine for 3 days in the fridge but they are easier to assemble and nicer to eat at room temperature.

For the pecan praline:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Place the pecans on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a heavy saucepan on high heat and cook until you get a golden caramel. Immediately pour it over the pecans and let sit until cold and hard. Chop into small pieces.

Pear - Pecan Cakes

No Knead Brioche With Pink Almond Praline

Yes I hear you, "another brioche post", and I want to tell you that when you can’t reach overhead for a few days and that soup is not really appealing after surgery, brioche is like food send from angels way up above. I had surgery yesterday and my lovely mother-in-law brought me a big pot of soup…and what did I do? I ate brioche instead…for dinner! No veggies, no protein, just pure unadulterated butter and flour.

What makes me happy about this brioche is the little pink praline inside and the little story that goes along with it. I have had a huge crush on Guillemette from Chocolat et Caetera for over a year now. I can’t tell you how many times I leave the house and her latest post is still on my computer screen, how many times I look at her desserts and admire the pure taste and flavors she combines. She is smart, fun and beautiful. She is my girl crush, quoi! A few months ago we started talking about the things we missed about France for me and the US for her (food of course) and somewhere in the mounds of cheese and slushies she mentioned "Heath Toffee Bits" and I remembered the pink pralines from Lyon that I loved so much in brioche. Don’t be mistaken by the word praline: the almond is coated with a semi hard caramel that is tinted in pink and then flavored with different essences. This praline may appear crackling at first but soon the outside gives way to a soft interior. Along with the pralines, Guillemette spoiled me with hazelnut paste, raspberry chocolate jam, tons of incredible artisan chocolate and cookies. Thank you!

Back to the brioche shall we? I received Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day when , my other girl crush, Jaden, held a drawing for a few copies of this book based on the ubber popular and beloved concept of the No-Knead bread. After kneading Julia’s French bread by hand from line 1 to line….(well, til the end), I needed the welcome change of a no-knead dough, but brioche? I was skeptical to say the least. My favorite brioche is not the all buttery kinf but rather the one that we call "brioche filee", one that gives out nice strands of dough as you pull it apart. I feared that no matter how good the no-knead one would be, it would just disappoint me. I looked at the brioche recipe in the book but I did not have enough eggs and remember I hate to be disappointed by bread! I settled on the recipe for Challah which texture is very close to the "brioche filee" texture I like so much.

I made small ones, with and without "tete", that little bump on top, and filled each with a praline. I made a double batch so I could indulge on a moment’s notice and boy was I happy to butter one up tonight. See doctor! No reaching overhead! Just from the tray, passed the butter and onward to my mouth. Oh my…perfect! Not too sweet, not oozing in butter, each filled with a little pink surprise inside! Excuse me if I end this post right there with the recipe, but my painkillers are calling my name and I fear I might not make much sense in a few minutes. I will leave you with the recipe for the Challah adapted slightly from Jaden’s minus the praline, and feel free to bake the challah as intended or fill brioche molds and make small ones. Both doughs are cousins after all.

Master Dough:

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbl instant yeast
1 kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp table salt)
4 lg eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and room temp.
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large bowl of your stand mixer with paddle attachment mix together the eggs, water, honey, melted butter, yeast and salt. Add in the flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated Cover (not airtight) and stick it in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 4 days. The longer you let the dough in the refrigerator, the better tasting it will be.

You can let it rise for 2 hours on the counter, cover and refrigerate overnight. Pinch of a grapefruit size ball (one pound) and use as you prefer. The dough will keep well for about a week. Freeze if necessary and allow to thaw overnight in the fridge.

Dulce De Leche Macarons

…Or how I got my macarons mojo back thanks to Gerard Mulot. For those who don’t know Gerard Mulot, let’s just say that he is one of the other Masters of French pastries and I fell in love with his pastries and macarons when I was knee high. Once a month we would take the train into Paris to visit my dad’s godmother. A tough and quirky maid living in a very old building with a giant (or so it seemed to me at the time) marbled staircase. The woman had never married, never had children and an afternoon in her appartment full of plastic covered furniture and untouchable curtains seemed more like torture than a fun times in the City. Except for the patisseries she served us around four o’clock….they were Mulot’s patisseries: canneliers, macarons, pains au chocolat, lemon tarts, coconut chocolate cakes, etc…I would quickly forget the covered the plastic covered chair I was sitting on and dive into the pink colored box full of goodies.

So why would I need to get my macaron mojo back? Well, I feared that I had lost it after talking every weekend with Veronica about macaron making method, nuts, flavors, buttercream, etc… Twice in the span of two weeks I ended up with sub par macarons. I tried the recipe in The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman and right from the start I had my doubts. The recipe used a lot of egg whites compared to the rest of the ingredients and as soon as I began folding I knew the mixture would be to dry and too dense to produce that lovely round shell that we all know. I ended up with lovely blood orange meringue shells, but not macarons. The second time I played around with my usual recipe and some chocolate and the same thing happened! In the meantime Veronica was keeping me informed of her macarons successes (check out her new business venture) and I finally emailed her "I think I gave you my macarons mojo!!" To which she replied "Have you tried Gerard Mulot’s recipe…I like it…not too sweet, nice soft shells" Ahah!! That was the only and perfect excuse I had to ask my mother to bring me his book.

His recipes are not very different from the ones I have used before and as it is often the case with macarons, the baker and the weather have often more to do with messing up the end product than the recipe itself (except in the case of Zuckerman, Veronica and I still have our doubt!). Remember how I keep saying that I like making them but don’t really enjoy eating them? You could then ask me why I spend my time making them?! Well, beside the orders I get for family and friends or private parties, their elusive and rebelious nature has me jumping up and down when I see their little feet forming in the oven. I like the way they look when filled, like they are sticking their tongue at you. Mastering a macaron batch and creating flavors and filling is a fun game to play for me…but remember that I am weird like that!! And now that Veronica has sent me a stash of matcha green tea, I am already thinking about adding some to the next macaron baking session I have!!

The recipe from Gerard Mulot is quite simple as it does not require an Italian meringue, so no messing around with hot sugar syrup. Last month I made a batch of Dulce de Leche or Confiture De Lait, using David Lebovitz’s foolproof method and I had a small jar tucked away in the fridge just for the next macarons I would bake. I topped the shells with crushed praline before they went into the oven and after they were all cooled, I filled them with the Dulce De Leche. Surprise, surprise….it is now the second time that I am devouring them!!

If you decide to make this recipe, it might take you some time if you make all the components the same day. What I usually do on quieter days is to make a batch of praline that I crush in the food processor so that I can sprinkle it on ice cream, mousses and cake layers on a moment’s notice. The Dulce De Leche keeps a long time in the fridge and I try to keep a jar to drizzle it on yogurts, ice cream or use as a dip for tart apples.

Dulce de Leche Macarons:

For the cushed praline:
1/3cup sugar
1 cup unblanched almonds

Combine the sugar and almonds in a heavy saucepan. Place over medium heat to begin melting the sugar. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so the sugar melts and caramelizes evenly. Cook to a light amber color.
Scrape the praline from the saucepan and spread it about 1/4-inch thick on an oiled baking sheet or a marble surface. Let cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Break the hard praline into 1-1/2 inch pieces and place them in a bowl of a food processor and quickly pulse until finely ground.

For the Dulce de Leche:
Please see David Lebovitz’s recipe. I did not change a thing and it worked perfectly.

For the Macarons:
3 egg whites
50 gr. granulated sugar
200 gr. powdered sugar
110 gr. ground almonds

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glosy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won’t work.
Combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and cobine your almond with it evenly. Add them to the meringue and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small round onto parchment paper baking sheets. Sprinkle the praline powder over the shells.
Preheat the oven to 315F. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shell a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool completely. Once cooled, sandwich them with the Dulce de Leche and enjoy!

Once again, no chocolate post….But….if you want your fill and a good dose of Nutella to go with it, help me go to Napa and check out the Copia Center Chocolate Festival by voting for my Nutella Creams here: