Emily was looking through the March issue of Bon Appetit magazine and in between her "MMM!"s and "Oh my! We've got to make this!"s, she stumbled upon a recipe for a Spiced Buttermilk Cake with Pear Compote and Crème Fraiche. We decided right then and there that we would make it as one of the dessert choices for an upcoming dinner party we were invited to. I have renamed it though because I don't think the preparation for the pears really makes them a compote … they are just cooked pears. Is that really all a compote is? I should go to culinary school and learn all this stuff.
The spices are allspice, ginger, black pepper (I know! Who'd've thunk?!), and ground whole star anise. The measures on these are all just 1/8 teaspoon … a light blend of what adds up to a great taste.
The next paragraph is a diatribe on spices and their availability so you might want to just skip ahead … unless you are really interested in knowing where to find ground whole star anise.
I would assume that you could find ground whole star anise in most grocery stores, either in the spice aisle or in the bulk sections, or perhaps at CostPlus World Market. However, I live in Grocery Store Heaven here in Seattle and tend to forget that it is difficult to find some ingredients in other areas. (My mother made sure I was aware of this when I posted the Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce that called for fennel! Granted, it was during the time of the awful weather in the South and her specialty grocery store didn't have any … yeah, down there, you'd probably have to look for fennel in a specialty store no matter the weather whereas here, it is regular fare!) You can always order spices from Penzey's or from World Spice Merchants at Pike Place Market, too, but, of course, for us frugally-minded folks, we mustn't forget to figure in shipping costs.
Personally … if I didn't have ground whole star anise and couldn't find anything remotely like it, I would probably still make the cake and just leave it out. You will not experience the full essence of how the cake was intended to taste, but you will still have a very lovely dessert.
The entire cake is very simply made by mixing the butter and eggs, then alternately adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk—just like making a pound cake. It's only a one layer cake and smells very cozy while it bakes.
For an extra special flavor, you scrape the seeds from a small piece of vanilla bean and add them to the creamed egg and butter mixture.
I'm sure you could use vanilla extract, but why would you want to miss out on the vanilla bean itself? I love, love, love, vanilla beans.
Lime peel is used in the cake and the juice is used when cooking the pears. Nice continuance of flavor support.
Use Bosc pears for the best results, and cook them gently with lime juice, sugar, and a smidge of salt.
Serve the cake with the pears on top (be sure to drizzle some of the juice on it as well), and top it all off with a bit of crème fraiche. I sprinkled a bit of allspice on the crème just to make it look like I went to culinary school.
Delectable and dèlicieux.
Crème fraiche is the best choice for this dessert. However, sour cream could be an acceptable substitute. In a dire pinch, plain or vanilla yogurt would suffice. And in an even further pinch, you could also whip up some cream, but truly that would be too sweet and you could be found guilty of not interpreting this dessert in the best manner. I'm sure, however, that whomever you serve it to will forgive you and love it anyway—because they don't know any better! It's your kitchen – do whatever you want!
You can find the original recipe HERE, or you can download my version of it …
Either way … enjoy it!