31 Jan Pear Skillet Cake with Brandy Caramel Sauce
Wednesday night I had the pleasure of going to see Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour at ACL Live’s Moody Theatre – the filming location for the famous Austin City Limits Live TV show.
I must admit, I was a little skeptical. I didn’t pay for my ticket (work perks!) and while I’m a huge fan Alton on Good Eats, I probably wouldn’t have put my own money towards a ticket. After all, Alton at a live music venue, kitchenless, entertaining me for 2 hours – what could he possibly do the whole time?
Ohhh ye of little faith.
But it was a free ticket and I do love Alton’s nerdy style of humor, so I went.
You’ll notice that I’m using the singular form of ticket. Since I got access through a work project, there was just one. Solo date night!
To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. I felt much less like that awkward chick sitting by herself in the corner than expected. I bought myself the “large” cocktail, ate all the stinky, garlicky brussels sprouts I wanted for dinner, and took pleasure in getting lost in my own thoughts. No worrying about reapplying lip gloss or about Steve catching me this nerdy, low-pitched laugh I sometimes do that sounds more like it should come from a pimply teen-aged boy, than from a proper lady like myself. Just me, myself and I, hootin’ and hollerin’ and and geeking out at whatever I pleased.
And there was a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’.
Alton, I’m sorry I ever underestimated you because you were insanely hilarious.
There were several musical numbers, dedicated to a variety of culinary delights including one very unfortunate encounter with and airport shrimp cocktail and spanning several genres of music. He actually had a very pleasant voice. When I heard there would be singing I immediately had queasy flashbacks to Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia or worse, Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. (You know what I’m talking about. Awkward.) But there wasn’t a sour note in all night. Inspired by the musical history of the locale, Alton even sang an “unreleased” number dedicated to his substance of choice – caffeine.
He had a really great staged presence and when coupled with his signature Alton wit, he had the hold crowd rolling for the full two hours. And while Alton points out on several occasions that being on tour allows him to do all of the things that he can’t on TV, he kept things pretty clean.
There were just enough fart jokes and sexual innuendo peppered through out to keep me happy. For example, as he dressed himself in has traditional lab coat attire for the cooking portion of the show, he called out those slits in the sides (why aren’t they real pockets?) calling them happy fun time pockets and poking fun at especially jovial doctors. Half a vodka soda in, that got some good giggles out of this girl.
My favorite portion of the show was when Alton unveiled an invention of his own genius called the Mega Bake – a ginormous, manly-man version of the classically 60’s Easy Bake Oven, built to fill a void left by never having an easy bake oven as a kid. Also the muse for another hilarious song citing the time when Santa told him that Easy Bake Ovens are for girls and failed to bring him one on Christmas morning.
The Mega Bake was easily the size of an SUV (he climbed on top of it at one point) and Alton claimed that if taken outside and turned to full power, it could be seen from outer space. How much truth there is to that claim I don’t know, but he’s a pretty sciency guy so I’ll take it.
Then Alton picked a volunteer to come on stage to help him bake pizzas in the Mega Bake. I was immediately consumed with envy, staring daggers at that lucky volunteer from my seat in the nosebleeds, silently regretting my decision not to buy the more expensive ticket on the company credit card. Can you imagine? Baking with Alton!
Of course, the Mega Bake successfully made some delicious looking pizzas in about 3 minutes flat, filling the entire venue with the smell of fresh crust. Torture.
Speaking of the scent of fresh baking, lets switch topics to this Pear Skillet Cake.
When we were in Belize I had a lot of fun visiting the local markets to peruse the baking aisle, checking out the local products and getting a feel for what baking might be like in a Belizean home. The biggest difference I saw was the variety and volume of extracts. It makes that since it’s hard to get fresh fruits and ingredients to flavor baked goods on the island, extracts are the go-to for flavoring. I chose to buy brandy extract since it’s not something I have noticed in American grocery stores (though I admit I’ve never actually looked for it) and I have little desire to invest in a bottle of brandy for baking purposes (because, who drinks brandy?).
Pear and brandy seemed like a natural pairing (pun intended) and since I’m still obsessed with the last skillet cake I made, I decided it was time for another one. I used a recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson, as a base, adding the brandy extract and cinnamon for added spice.
And brandy caramel sauce because, duh. Caramel should never need explaining.
Note that the caramel does add quite a bit of sweetness to the dessert so it’s best served on the side so cake consumers can add as much or as little as they want. The recipe below makes far more than you will need for your cake so either half it or store the rest in your refrigerator and use as a topping for
everything ice cream or fruit.
And if you get the chance to go see Alton Brown Live! I highly recommend it! My sides are still aching from laughing so hard. Alton, I will never doubt you again.
- 2 large & firm pears, cored & quartered
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, plus 1 tbsp
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp brandy extract
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 tsp brandy extract
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350F. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
- Finely chop one of the pears and thinly slice the others, set aside.
- In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Wisk the mixture by hand to make sure the ingredients are well combined and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and 1/4 cup of brown sugar (reserving the extra tablespoon) on medium speed until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the egg, vanilla & brandy extracts and beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
- Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture all at once, mixing until just blended. The batter will be very stiff.
- Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the finely chopped pear and half the almonds, mixing just enough to combine. Dump the batter into your cast iron skillet and spread it into an even layer.
- Arrange the peat slices on top of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar.
- Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the cake is golden in color and the center springs back lightly when touched, about 40 minutes. Do not over bake, because cast iron holds heat so well, your cake will continue to bake after it is taken out of the oven so it's better to remove it a little under done than to dry out your cake.
- Serve warm or cool, with Brandy Caramel Sauce. Cake is best eaten the same day but can be stored by covering tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 2-3 days.
- While your cake is baking, make your sauce on the stove top. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-low heat, sitting occasionally. Add the sugar and stir until melted and smooth. About 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add the butter and extracts, again stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool.
- Serve alongside Pear Skillet Cake. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Bandy Caramel Sauce adapted from MyRecipes.com.