Excepted from Let Us All Eat Cake by Catherine Ruehle
Cinnamon Mini Cakes with Caramelized Pears and Golden Sugar Halos
Makes 6 mini cakes (6 servings)
Students in my cooking classes invariably start the class believing this recipe is beyond their skill level and end the class amazed by their success. The components are no more difficult than any other cake if you break down the steps. Even the sugar halos are deceptively simple to make: just use caution when working with the hot sugar and keep your kids out of the kitchen for that part. And if drizzling the cooked sugar in halo shapes is giving you trouble, just drizzle any simple shape you like, such as a coin or zigzag. It’s best to bake this cake the day before you assemble the desserts. The cake will be less fragile to work with after it has settled overnight. Unless it’s very humid, it’s also a good idea to make the halos the day before to save yourself some time on the day you assemble. Just leave them uncovered overnight.
Cinnamon Spice Cake batter (recipe below)
Golden Sugar Halos:
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 ripe but firm pears (Bartletts work well), peeled, cored, and sliced
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or melted and cooled virgin coconut oil
1 cup organic cane sugar
Maple Whipped Cream:
1 1/2 cups ice-cold heavy cream or canned coconut cream (refrigerate cans of unsweetened coconut milk overnight, and then scoop off the cream)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 13 by 18-inch jelly-roll pan with nonstick cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and spray again.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and, using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, evenly spread out the batter. Bake in the center of the oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until the top is light golden and a toothpick inserted into the center tests clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Using a 3-inch-diameter cookie or biscuit cutter, cut 12 rounds from the cooled sheet cake. Arrange the rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them so they do not touch. (Reserve the scraps for snacking or to combine with fresh fruit and cream to make a trifle.) Tightly wrap the pan with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature up to 2 days or until ready to assemble cakes.
To make the sugar halos: Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and lemon juice, stirring to moisten the sugar with the juice. Allow the sugar to melt, swirling the pan slowly for even melting. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and continue boiling for 3 minutes.
Immediately remove from the heat and let cool for 2 minutes. Working quickly and carefully, hold the saucepan over the prepared sheet and dip a metal spoon into the sugar syrup (wrap the handle of the spoon with a kitchen towel if it gets hot); drizzle the sugar in circular halo shapes onto the parchment (see page 114). Do not touch the sugar syrup—it will burn you! If necessary, use the spoon to trace the halo pattern through the sugar to make sure your halos form complete circles. This will ensure that they hold their shape on the finished cakes.
You will have more sugar halos than you need to top the 6 cakes, but that’s okay as some may break. (Any leftover halos can be crushed into “golden sugar” bits and scattered decoratively around the serving plates.) Allow the halos to cool completely before touching them, at least 15 minutes. In dry weather, you can make the halos 3 days in advance; if it’s humid, make them the day you intend to use them. Set aside.
Make the caramelized pears the day you plan to serve the cakes: Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium bowl, toss the pear slices with the lemon juice and vanilla to coat well. Melt the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and shake the pan to moisten the sugar with the butter. Add the pear slices and all the liquid from the bowl and cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture bubbles, about 3 minutes, shaking the pan frequently to keep the pears from sticking. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the pears are soft and the juices are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and pour the pears and caramelized syrup into a medium bowl. Set aside at room temperature until ready to assemble the cakes.
While the pears bake, make the whipped cream: In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on high until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add the maple syrup and continue beating until the cream forms firm peaks. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 hours. If you keep it longer, the cream may separate and become weepy. (If it does, beat again before using.)
To assemble and plate the cakes, gather together the cake rounds (two per cake), caramelized pears (make sure they are completely cool—if they’re warm, the hot caramel will make the stacked cakes slide around), chilled whipped cream, and cooled sugar halos.
Place one round of cake on a serving plate and top with some of the pears and caramel. Add a dollop of whipped cream and then another round of cake, pressing down gently. Finish with more whipped cream and a sugar halo nestled into the cream. If you have extra caramelized pears, you can spoon them around the cake in a decorative fashion. Extra golden sugar bits can be sprinkled on the pears or around the edge of the plate. Repeat with the remaining cakes, pears, and whipped cream. Serve immediately.
Tip: You can assemble the cakes up to 1 hour in advance and keep at cool room temperature until serving time. But wait to place the halos in the cream until just before serving or they will become soft. Do not refrigerate the sugar halos at any point in the process, as they will become soft and “weepy” with condensation. Virgin Coconut Oil I’m a huge proponent of coconut oil, both for its health benefits and for its baking applications. Use it to grease your pans, or as a vegan/dairy-free alternative to melted butter. The “coconuttiness” of this oil varies from brand to brand, but most will not lend a coconut flavor to your cakes or buttercreams. I use Barlean’s or Spectrum brands, but bargains can be found at stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco. Just make sure the label specifies “virgin” and “organic.” To use coconut oil in baking, scoop approximately the quantity that you need, melt it in a saucepan over low heat, and then measure the precise amount called for in the recipe. But be sure to cool it to room temperature before you add it to your batter. Instead of incorporating the traditional walnuts or pecans, I ice this cake with almond buttercream and garnish it with slivered almonds. The pure almond extract in the buttercream marries perfectly with the warmth of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice in the cake, taking this dessert to new flavor heights.