“…the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.”
– Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem
No riot of color or chilling air; October’s subtlety in LA is lost to anyone not labeled “native.” Sunburnt leaves wither and suicide in golden sunlight without fanfare. Stifling Santa Ana winds unfurl scents of burning sagebrush with feelings of “prickly dread” and stopped time. Earthquake weather, we call it. Porch lights flicker awake by 6:00, lighting barefoot children pedaling bikes in dusty cul-de-sacs. This is autumn in LA.
Despite the warmth, autumn in my kitchen means roasts and stews – and desserts of pumpkin, apple or pear, like this autumn-inspired Pear Pecan Upside-down Cake.
A buttery-rich cake topped with fresh pears and pecans.
2 Bosc pears, cored, peeled and cut into 12 slices each
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup pecans
⅓ cup bourbon
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pan
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup pecans
3 Tablespoons chopped crystalized ginger
Make Topping: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter a 9” cake pan and arrange pear slices in a pattern on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
Bring 1 cup sugar and water to boil in a frying pan over high heat (not nonstick), reduce heat to simmer and cook, swirling, but not stirring until mixture caramelizes. When colored a medium brown, add pecans and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Remove from heat and carefully add bourbon and salt. Pour over pears. Note: At any place along the process, the caramel may seize and crystalize, just return it to the stove on a low heat and re-melt.
Make Cake: In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together unsalted butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time; beating after each addition (I add a small tablespoon of the flour mixture after each egg to help avoid curdling). Beat in vanilla. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beating after each addition, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in remaining ½ cup pecans and crystalized ginger. Batter will be thick
Spoon batter over pears, smoothing and spreading evenly. Bake cake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool on rack 15 minutes, invert cake on a serving platter and cool until slightly warm.
Apples, cinnamon and rum-soaked raisins capture autumn in this moist Bundt cake. Coffee cake? Snack cake? Impressive post-meal dessert? It works for all three – you decide.
Autumn in L.A.
Feigning Hollywood starlet ennui, tanned summer leaves serenely suicide from weary trees, “Too hot,” they lament, “I cannot stay a moment longer.” L.A. subtly shifts into autumn, leaving paroxysms of sunset hues to the other coast.
Adapted from Richardson’s Canal House Inn apple raisin cake.
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup dark spiced rum
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cut into ½” dice
Glaze and Icing
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
3 Tablespoons honey
½ cup powdered sugar
Sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, knocking out excess flour. Combine golden raisins and rum in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Set aside and let soak.
Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk together oil, eggs, sugars, and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in apples and drained golden raisins. Spoon batter into pan.
Bake until tester comes out clean, about 75 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes and then turn out onto rack to cool completely.
In a small saucepan, combine unsalted butter, brown sugar and honey and heat on medium until sugar is completely melted and glaze is thickened and bubbling. Brush over top and sides of cake. Combine powdered sugar with enough water to make a glaze and drizzle over cake. Serve plain of with sweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpats.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl.
Beat butter and sugars in a stand mixer until smooth, but not pale and fluffy.
Add the pumpkin, vanilla and eggs and beat until combined.
Slowly stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until just combined.
Spoon 32 cookies onto the baking sheets. With a moist finger, slightly smooth the sides and top of each cookie round and flat.
Bake for 10-13 minutes until cookies are set, but not brown. Remove from sheets and cool completely.
While the cookies cool, beat together cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar until filling is light and fluffy.
Liberally spread the flat side of half of the cooled cookies with the filling. Don’t be shy; you need enough filling for two cookies. Sandwich together with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate or serve within two hours.
If I can’t find a new situation, how do I find contentment in my current state?
I have been begging anyone who will listen to help me escape from my daily slog. So far, my pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Now I’ve begun to wonder, if it’s not time for my situation to change, how do I find contentment with what I have?” Not, “what can I do/change/buy to find contentment,” but “how can I find contentment where I am right now with what I have?” If I never break free, I don’t want to live this life unhappily. I can’t look for solutions externally; I can’t change who I am. So, how do I find happiness with what is here, now?
My temporary placation, as I ponder my predicament, comes in the form of a sugar pacifier. Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without cranberry sauce, but my favorite recipe makes 4 ½ cups and I’m always left with a large Tupperware container of the stuff after the main event. This year, I decided to make a tart with the leftovers and, full of chagrin, devoured the whole thing in two days.
Bring cider to simmer in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and add dried cherries. Let stand for 8-10 minutes. Mix in sugar, cranberries and cloves. Cook over medium high heat until cranberries burst, stirring occasionally, about 9-10 minutes. Refrigerated until cold, at least 4 hours. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
Make the Tart:
Heat the oven to 425. In a bowl, stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the oils, milk and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork, just until dampen. Do not overmix.
Transfer the dough to a 9 or 10-inch tart pan and pat out the dough so it evenly covers the bottom and sides of the pan to the rim. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup demerara sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the butter. Using your fingers, pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly like wet sand and small pebbles.
Fill the tart shell with the cranberry mixture (you may have extra). Sprinkle all of the streusel mixture over top. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the tart is bubbly and the crust is slightly brown. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or room temperature.