I’ve learned a lot about breaking the mold this winter. My own mold, especially.
Prior to October, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the last time I allowed a whole day to slip away while I was reading on the couch in my jammies. Or a morning that had unfolded without color-coded lists being carefully organized; a night without a pre-hatched plan for dinner; when the laundry wasn’t folded straight from the dryer and I’d had a great nights rest more than two nights in a row. I couldn’t have told you the last time when – annoyingly enough – something (all of these things + more) didn’t come easily to me. And, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell you that I had woken before the sun, forgoing a swim or trail run (my strict morning routine,) to bake a rich, fragrant, delicious cake, filling the house with sweet warmth instead of adrenaline.
But, here we are.
The cake wasn’t an accident, or an obligation; it just felt like the thing to do. When you’ve jam-packed your life and comprised your identity with tasks and obligations, you must let something go before you can bring anything else in. Like substituting cake for sweat on a winter’s morning.
For all those months before October, I didn’t really realize how much the core of me was missing out, in need of a reset. And I especially didn’t realize how little I’d have to let go to let some light in. I’ve been “re-learning” how to be a more productive maker of lists, a poster of post-its while staying connected to inklings within me, and trying to manage my schedule without allowing octopus arms to pop out of my body to hyper-manage all the tasks that I expected from myself in a day (cooking/training/writing/working/plotting/studying/supporting…) I do still expect myself to do all of those things, but maybe not in one day. No human being should need unsightly octopodinae limbs just to be themselves.
Back to the cake: I fell in love with it from the moment this book of Yvette Van Boven’s arrived back in September, with Oof Verschuren‘s photograph of the cake gracing the cover. Since, the book has been open on the countertop, every other page marked with a cheery purple “to-cook” flag, occasionally receiving a dusting of flour from flurries of kitchen passion. The recipes inside are simple, straight-forward and fun, and feed our souls, adding a little extra layer of cozy on top of whatever a winter’s day holds up here in Portland. My first stab at this cake was as part of our New Year’s Eve menu and it went over wildly well; from the vanilla-cardamom scents of poaching pears, to the moment that we pulled the cake from the oven with the pear stems poking out whimsically, we all couldn’t wait to dig in. I’ve watched the pear stocks dwindle at the market, making way for citrus instead, but there should be plenty of firm ones out there still for you to employ here; bosc, bartlett, and even red pears will work like a charm.
This recipe is printed with sweet permission from Yvette’s team of colleagues at Abrams Books (thank you!) but I do have some notes on how to make it easy on yourself; I like to poach the pears the day before using them, so that they have time to cool and because they cook easily while I’m preparing dinner and the like. Once the pears are cool, the cake is a breeze to whip up. Yvette suggests baking the cake for 40 minutes, but ours almost always seems to take nearly 60 minutes and I blame our oven; use your toothpick to decide if the core of the cake is done; the pick will come out clean when its ready!
I hope that this cake; its scent, and everything it stands for – a deep comfort from within – fill your kitchen with what you need this time of year. Enjoy! xo – L