kentucky winter pear cake cowgirl magazine

Recipe and photo by Susan L. Ebert

Adapted from a recipe by Kentuckian Stella Parks, 2018 James Beard Award winner for her cookbook BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, this triple-layer, ginger buttercream-frosted cake features winter pears, such as the ones that grew on the ancient, gnarled trees on my Mamaw and Papaw’s Bluegrass farm near Lexington, Kentucky.

Ginger Buttercream Frosting (make the day before)

  • 1 cup egg whites, about 10 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 32 ounces (8 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 2-inch chunks 
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons. powdered ginger

Pear Cake (make second)

  • 16 ounces (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs. (6-8) winter pears (or very firm Bosc or Bartlett pears), scrubbed clean
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups organic brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups organic all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 16 ounces (3 cups) pistachios (or black walnuts or pecans), roughly chopped and lightly toasted in a cast-iron skillet

Oven-Dried Pear Chips (make last)

  • 3/4 cup reserved pear juice 
  • 3/4 cup organic sugar
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 3 unblemished, symmetrical winter (or very firm Bosc or Bartlett) pears

For the frosting: Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and set it over a pan of barely simmering water.  Whisk the mixture gently until it warms to between 145° and 150° F. on a candy thermometer.  Remove from heat.

Place the bowl on the stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites double in volume and turn snowy-white and the bowl is completely cool, about 10–15 minutes.  Reduce speed to medium-low and add in butter, one chunk at a time, giving each addition several seconds to incorporate (the meringue will deflate a bit during the first few additions). Add in vanilla, fresh grated ginger, and powdered ginger, and continue whipping until evenly incorporated.  

Store in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before frosting, then whip again immediately before frosting.

For the cake: Adjust oven rack to center.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment, then lightly butter and flour.

In a small lightly colored saucepan, melt butter over low heat. When it has completely liquefied, turn heat to medium to brown the butter and watch carefully until it bubbles and brown bits form on the bottom of the pan.  When the sputtering stops, strain butter through cheesecloth, and set aside to cool. You should have 1 1/2 cups.

Core the pears, leaving the peel on, and shred using the large side of a box grater or the medium-size grating attachment on a food processor.  Gather shredded fruit into a triple thickness of cheesecloth or a thin cotton dish towel, and squeeze the liquid from the pears, capturing 3/4 cup of pear juice for the pear chip recipe and setting that aside.

In a stand mixer, beat eggs, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg at medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, then drizzle in brown butter and add vanilla.  Add flour and stir until just incorporated.  Gently fold in shredded pear and toasted nuts.  Divide the batter evenly among the three pans.

Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the cakes have puffed up and are lightly browned (They will be moister than most cakes because of the pears).  Remove to a rack and let cool entirely before removing from pans and peeling away the parchment paper.

For the pear chips: Preheat oven to 200° F.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.  Combine reserved pear juice and sugar in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Pour into a brownie pan or pie dish.

With a sharp knife or a mandoline, slice both sides of the pears vertically into 1/8-inch-thick chips, placing each slice into the syrup as soon as it’s cut.  Let slices marinate for 10 minutes, then remove each slice with tongs, letting the excess syrup drip back into the pan, and transfer to the baking sheet.

Bake until the slices feel very dry, about 1 1/2 hours, turning them over midway.

To assemble the cake: Generously spread buttercream frosting between layers before stacking.  Frost the sides and top once with a thin “crumb coat.”  Chill cake for 30 minutes, then frost sides and top again with a thick layer.  Chill well.  Decorate with pear chips.

Keeps for a week in the refrigerator, or in a covered cake keeper outside or in the garage when temperatures are 45° F. or lower.

Discover more than 175 other organic wild game, seafood, foraged foods, and garden fare recipes in The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L. Ebert (Welcome Books, 2016), available in the COWGIRL store at