Tales of Woe: the one with The Cake

Tales of Woe: the one with The Cake

Several months ago, I came across this peach cake recipe from the Barefoot Contessa…

And, while I’m not a huge fan of fresh fruit in cakes, this one sounded interesting… so I gave it a go.

Cake try #1, wasn’t thrilled with the fresh peaches.

I was right, while the idea was good, the fresh peaches congealed in the bottom of the cake pan and the batter never really set.

So, since FRESH peaches are overly watery and have  that fresh fruit enzyme going on, why not try it with tinned peaches – maybe they would work better.

Cake try #2, Better… but no cigar

So, I scrapped the idea of peaches – and tried again. This time with tinned pears, and I added sweetened dried cranberries to balance out the pear flavor.

Cake try #3 – tasty cake…. but still not something I’s serve to anyone. And there’s still the nagging problem of all the fruit slumping to the bottom of the pan.

It was…. OK… just.

I thought maybe changing out the spice profile might give it some zing…

Cake try #4 – Different Spices Mahlab and Nutmeg

My sis had given me a jar of Mahlab for Christmas, and I thought the bitter cherry / slightly floral notes might lift it up some. I also flipped the fruit layers and since the pears were going to slump… I’d just go ahead and put them on the bottom with the cranberries on top.

The cranberries weren’t heavy enough to sink  and pull the sugar layer into the batter… so everything stayed on top and got kinda crusty.  The cranberries turned to jerky….

So I tried again and  flipped the layers

Cake try #5 – The pears slumped all the way to the bottom…but the mahlab didn’t really add anything to the cake… So I scrapped it.

What became evident all through the versions, was no matter how much spice I added to the sugar layers.. it never really read spice cake. The taste was still basic, dense cake with fruit….. but I still thought there was a great cake in there…. somewhere.

It finally hit me around 11 pm one night to mix the sugar coating WITH the pears and make it a syrup.

Cake try #6 – Pears and Sugar coating mixed together.

The pears were perfect! the flavor was better… but there still wasn’t something quite right with the cake. The Contessa’s recipe called for sour cream. … you already know my problem there… so I had just been substituting Homestead Creamery Whole Cultured Buttermilk. (their buttermilk is super, super, super thick) and I thought it would be an ok substitute. The thing is, buttermilk has no fat…. so that’s a problem.  And, it was a main problem with the cake throughout this whole process.

Since, I’ve had some success adding aged white cheddar in recipes that called for sour cream, I thought why the hell not….

Cake try #7 – spiced pears with syrup, new spice blend, cheddar cheese

It was, in short, … perfect.

The perfect crumb, the perfect spice, the perfect flavor. I was so pleased with it. Proudly, I took a final piece to Jane so I could bask in the wonderment…. and she says….

” Don’t be mad… but please don’t make that cake again. I really hate pears in cake.”


 Spiced Pear & Cranberry Cake

Based on “Fresh Peach Cake” by Ina Garten

 Serves 8


For the Batter:

2 Cups AP Flour

1/4 pound Salted Butter

1 Cup Sugar

2 Large Eggs

3/4 Cup Whole, Cultured Buttermilk

1/4 Cup Packed Grated Extra Sharp White Cheddar

1 Teaspoon Vanilla

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1 Teaspoon Baking Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

For the Sugar Coating:

1 Teaspoon Cinnamon

1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

1/2 Teaspoon Ground Allspice

1 Can Sliced Pears in Juice – Drained

1 Cup Sweetened, Dried Cranberries

Tools of the Trade:

10″ Springform Pan

Stand Mixer with Paddle

A Couple of Mixing Bowls

Measuring Spoons & Cups



Preheat the over to 350.

Mix together the coating sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Divide the mixture in 1/2 and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, buttermilk and cheese, beat until light and smooth. Whisk together the flour, soda, salt and baking powder and slowly add to the batter. Mix until the batter is smooth.

Lightly grease the pan and pour 1/2 the batter into the bottom. Place a layer of dried cranberries and 1/2 the dry coating mix evenly over the batter.

Top with the rest of the batter and smooth to an even layer. Mix the remaining  sugar coating with the drained pears and place evenly across the top of the cake. – pour any remaining syrup on top of the pears.

Place the spring form on a sheet pan in case your pan leaks.

Bake at 350 for  55 to 60 minutes – a tester will come out clean when inserted in the center of the cake.

Place on a rack and remove the form to cool.

Cool for a minimum of 30 minutes before serving.

The cake is dense… but delicious (regardless of what Jane says). It isn’t so much a dessert cake, but a  “come over and have some cake and coffee”  kind of cake.  Not too sweet, not too heavy, just right for a late even snack.


9 thoughts on “Tales of Woe: the one with The Cake

  1. This is a very familiar process to me. Whether I’m working on a new recipe or I’m testing out a new cookbook, there’s often something in the recipe that bothers me, and then I go on to tweak. Last week it was gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. I started with the recipe as written, and then I ended up with 6 batches of cookies varying the ingredients.

    1. At times – it feels a little like insanity, when you know there’s something wrong with a recipe… but just can’t quite put your finger on it.
      But, I don’t think anyone ever said… “No no no, please don’t make any more chocolate cookies” 🙂

  2. When obsession strikes, it’s best to ride it out! Love this post. What are your thoughts on creme fraiche if you hate sour cream? That might have been an option…? But I do love the sharp cheddar in the cake. Great solution!

  3. Haha, glad you got there in the end, even if Jane didn’t appreciate it – there’s just no pleasing some folks. An upside down cake is a good alternative. The fruit is meant to stay on the bottom and then the juices soak through when you turn it out after cooking/

    1. heh.. I know! I think it’s more that I absolutely hate it when a recipe doesn’t work. .. usually her stuff works like clockwork. Granted… part of the problem was me and the buttermilk… But it didnt work with the peaches… and that irked me.

    1. until the very end, I really didn’t realize there had been sooo many versions of the cake. I still don’t know what got into me…it became just a mad obsession to get it “right”.
      And thanks for the compliment on the photo… I have an affinity for those tea towels, it seems.

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