Midterm Madness Coffee Cake

Midterms may be the unholiest of unholies.  Well, that’s most definitely an exaggeration, but when you are in the middle of the stink pit, it’s hard to remember that you have been in stinkier places.  What to do when you are up to your elbows in WTO agreements, annuity formulas, and other mind-mushingly boring bits of paper?

Replace the funk of midterms with tasty scents: cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.  Oh yes: Desa bakes a cake to deal with stress.  Not necessarily eats the cake, but bakes it, admires it’s beauty, then calls up all her friends to gather, bitch and moan, and THEN eat the cake.  Guilt isn’t so bitter when shared; it becomes decadently delicious as more shoulders bear the load.

But which cake to make?  I knew that I couldn’t handle anything too complicated because my mind had been macerated like so many limes at a mojito bar, but I wanted something new and exciting to distract me from all the catch up studying I had yet to do.   In my tizzy, I turned to Gourmet, my monthly descent into food snobbery and whose demise I’m still mourning.  I decided to mark its passing by cooking up something from it’s final issue.   Still yet feeling lazy, I looked around my kitchen and my eyes fell upon the pears that came in our organic produce box and rejoiced in the lack of shopping I’d have to do if I made the Pear Cranberry Cake from the Final November Issue (pause for labored sigh of pain).

Cake and slice

Put down your pencils and pick up your forks.

Pear Cranberry Cake of Midterm Madness

From Gourmet Magazine, November 2009.

For the cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 lbs pears (they suggest 3 Bosc), cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 cup cranberries (thawed, if frozen)

For the glaze:

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 Tbsp light corn syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 (3 inch long) cinnamon sticks

Needs: 15 cup Bundt pan

Pears and Cranberries

Fall flavors = festive!

Make Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack in the middle position.  Butter the cake pan well (don’t forget the center part!)

Pour batter

Who needs a spoon when you have a spout on the bowl? I love you, bowl.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

Beat together sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla with an electric mixer until combined well.

At a low speed, mix in pears and cranberries, then add in flour mixture until incorporated.

Spoon batter into the pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours.

Cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Cake close up

I don't know if I have the heart to turn this upside down...

Make glaze:

Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, then simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.


Bubble bubble

Cool glaze 5 minutes.  Discard the cinnamon sticks, then pour the glaze over cake, letting some drip down the sides.

Gourment cooks’ notes: Cake, without glaze, can be made 1 day ahead and kept at room temperature.

Cake can be glazed 3 hours ahead.

Desa’s less serious notes: Don’t be afraid to tinker with this cake.  I didn’t use Bosc pears because I happened to have a Bartlett, an Asian, and a Comice hanging around my fruit bowl.   Oh, and the Comice pear?  Never heard of it before in my life – hands down the most crazy delicious piece of fruit I’ve eaten.  Ever.  I made insane person sounds in the produce section when they were offering tastes.

I ended up using cloves instead of all spice because that happens to be what’s hanging around my kitchen.  Unfortunately, I only had my chai-spicing whole cloves.  Luckily, MacGyver is frequent visitor to my kitchen, and he mentally held my hand while I faced my lack of mortar and pestle.  Instead, I mashed the cloves with the back of my tablespoon measure, then chopped the remaining bits and pieces with a knife before tossing them in the cake.  Wendy, also addled by midterms, remarked that it sounds remarkably like I described a murder, making this the Midterm Madness Murder cake and stopping the next cake-taster, Rubai, with the cake halfway through her mouth, looking accusingly at the bright red cranberries staining the crumb.


All that MacGyver has honed my problem solving instincts.

Don’t be afraid of using your electric mixer on the batter after you add the fruit – I was, and I was happy with the results despite my fear.  Some of the pear chunks got pulverized and added a nice moistness to the cake itself, but all the cranberries kept their shape, resilient little snots, and enough bits of pear held on to give it some visual interest.

Gourmet suggests letting the glaze cool for five minutes; this is definitely not enough time.  When I poured the glaze it poured happily all the way down the cake and gathered into a delicious light caramel puddle.  I like the glaze.  I want to eat it.  Let it cool and thicken up so it’ll actually stick to the cake instead of the plate.  I’d wait 15 minutes, instead.

Finally, this is a coffee cake kind of texture.  It compliments coffee well, and I don’t think that a dollop of whipped cream would go amiss, either.  It also makes A LOT of cake (for a two person apartment), so have a little coffee afternoon and apply some spice cake to your woes!

Cake slice

What midterms?


1 Response to “Midterm Madness Coffee Cake”

  1. 1 rubai November 7, 2009 at 1:10 am

    it was delicious!!! i gave some to my mom and english aunty they liked it too….i wasn’t beaten that night.

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!


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