There’s a board game you may have heard of called Settlers of Catan…it’s got a bit of a cult following. It’s one of those games that takes about 4 hours to play and you can more or less assume anyone who enjoys it a bit of a closet nerd (including myself and most of my loved ones, clearly.) Someone usually yells or cries by the time it’s over. We invited another couple to play last night and that turned into three more couples and before I knew it I was voluteering to host a dinner party for 8 full-grown adults with 5-hours notice. Typical Friday.
Did I mention we don’t have a table?
Dinner parties at our house mean everyone eats at the coffee table while sitting on the floor. We call it “rustic.”
There were a couple of recipes I’d been itching to try and I’m happy to report it was pretty successful all around. The complete menu involved a green salad, Braised Pork Shoulder with Apples over Cheesy Grits, and Lumberjack Pear Cake. More on that pork shoulder later – it deserves its own entry – for now I’m focusing on the cake. It was dense, sticky, sweet, spicy…everything you really want from a dessert this time of year. The recipe I worked from is in the December 2012 issue of Better Homes and Gardens – I adapted it a bit and served the finished product with vanilla bean ice cream.
After a long fought battle, Tom won Catan. I know you were wondering.
LUMBERJACK PEAR CAKE:
Traditional lumberjack cake has shredded coconut in it but I was out so I threw in some other things instead. I may add the coconut next time but I’d say it turned out pretty great as is.
1 cup pitted, chopped dates (you can buy them pitted at Costco or with pits in the produce section at most grocery stores)
1 cup apple cider (you can use water if necessary)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds (you can use any nuts you like)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 large, ripe pear, chopped in a 1/2 inch dice
optional: 1/2 cup flaked or shredded coconut
optional but recommended: glazed fruit (instructions below)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (like you’d use for cheesecake) and grease the sides of the pan well.
2. If your dates aren’t pitted, cut them in half and remove the pits then chop into smallish chunks.
3. In a small saucepan bring dates and apple cider to a boil then remove from heat. Immediately stir in baking soda. The mixture will foam – don’t worry – just set aside and let cool undisturbed for at least 10 minutes.
4. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl or stand mixer beat together butter, both sugars, egg, and vanilla extract. It’s important that your butter be soft but not melted. If mine’s too hard I microwave on 1/2 power for 10 seconds at a time.
5. Add the date mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined. A little at a time, add in the flour mixture, scraping down sides and being cautious not to overmix.
6. Now use a rubber spatula to fold in all your chunky bits – start with the nuts, then the coconut if using, then the pear. Stir until just combined. TIP: When adding nuts to batter I like to mix them with a pinch or two of AP flour first – it keeps them suspended in the batter so they won’t all sink to the bottom during baking.
7. Pour the mixture (the batter will have a very liquid consistency) into the pan then bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating in the oven once. The middle may fall a little but should be cooked through when removed from oven. While the cake cooks, make glazed fruit:
Glazed Fruit: Use any sturdy fruits you have – I used sliced clementines and dried cherries. Mix 3/4 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often, until sugar melts. Lower heat to medium-low then add fruit. Cook about 10 minutes, careful not to burn. Remove with a slotted spoon and cool on a wire rack with foil underneath. Sprinkle with sugar too, if you like.
8. Cool cake on a wire rack at least 1-hour then remove from pan – I kept mine upright but if it’s lumpy you can invert the whole cake! Top with glazed fruit.