Maida Heatter is a legend in the culinary world for good reason. The cakes in her 1975 "Book of Great Desserts" are never-fail and delicious, especially her pound cakes, including this one.
It's a great idea to bake one, cut it into 4 pieces and freeze them; that way, you'll always have a quick dessert on hand for company. Slices of it can be served with a fruit compote, flavored whipped cream or both. This cake calls for mace, which gives it a distinctive flavor, but cardamom is a nice substitution. If using alcohol is an issue for you, this is not a recipe to try.
The ginger flavor really shines through in the compote. You can use some of its syrup to lighten mascarpone or whipped cream and make a parfait, layering the creams and the compote, then topping with crushed, toasted pistachios.
Make Ahead: The cake can be baked a day or two in advance. It also freezes beautifully. The compote can be made several days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.
- For the compote
- 4 firm medium pears, preferably bosc or red bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 cup bourbon
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 2-inch piece unpeeled ginger root, cut crosswise into thin slices
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- For the cake
- 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan if desired
- 3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the pan
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mace or cardamom
- 3 1/4 cups light brown sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- For the glaze
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup bourbon
For the compote: Place the pears, bourbon, sugar, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves in a large saute pan over medium-high heat; stir to combine. Once the liquid comes to a boil, cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to a thick syrup and the fruit is crisp-tender. Remove from the heat; the yield is about 2 cups.
Transfer the compote to a small bowl and allow it to cool. Refrigerate until chilled. Before serving, remove and discard the ginger slices.
For the cake: Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Use butter or nonstick cooking oil spray to grease a 10-by-4-inch tube pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, butter or spray the paper, and lightly dust the bottom and sides with flour. (You may also use a Bundt pan.)
Sift the flour with the baking powder onto a sheet of wax paper.
Combine the milk and bourbon in a liquid measuring cup.
Combine the butter, vanilla extract and mace or cardamom in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixier; beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Reduce the speed to low; gradually add the brown sugar. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Increase the speed to medium-high; beat for several minutes to form a smooth, lightened batter. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl a few times.
On low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternately with the bourbon-milk mixture in two additions. Start and end with the dry ingredients; scrape the bowl down often, and beat just long enough to incorporate each ingredient.
Transfer to the prepared pan. Use a small offset spatula to gently smooth the top. To level the batter, grasp the sides of the pan and briskly swivel it back and forth several times.
If you're using a tube pan with a removable bottom, place a piece of aluminum foil under the cake pan to catch any batter that might seep out. Bake for 75 to 85 minutes, until a cake tester or bamboo skewer inserted into the center of the cake wall comes out clean.
Transfer the pan to a baking rack; cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack; remove the pan and discard the paper. Either leave the cake upside down (which offers a nice, squared-off top) or use a separate rack to re-invert it to its upright position. Set a large piece of foil under the rack.
For the glaze: Combine the sugar and bourbon in a small saucepan over medium heat (or in a heatproof measuring cup in a microwave), stirring just until the sugar dissolves completely.
Brush the top and sides of the warm cake with the glaze. Let the cake cool completely. Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and let it stand overnight at room temperature.
To serve, cut the cake into thin slices. Serve with some of the chilled compote.
From Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Desserts" (Knopf, 1975) and Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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