Once upon a time there was a girl who was obsessed with cooking, food, wine, cookbooks, and going out for brunch with her friends. Even though the girl was running out of room on her bookshelves, she knew that there were more books out there to read and new recipes to try. And then one day the girl got the chance of a lifetime — to have brunch with some of her favorite friends while being regaled by tales of cookbook publishing and surrounded by mountains and towers of shiny new cookbooks — at none other than local publishing house, Harvard Common Press.
There were delicious cocktails, a savory strata, yummy cakes and breads, and some of the freshest fruit you could imagine — at least in the middle of December. In Boston. With her plate almost piled full of other treats, she spied one last treat she just couldn’t pass up — Pear Bread with Vanilla and Ginger. There was only one piece left, so she (okay — I) moved quick. And a few bites later I was happy that I had saved some room on my plate.
The bread was so delicious and satisfying that morning, I couldn’t wait to find out which book contained the recipe to such a treasure and crossed my fingers that it was in one of the books that were piled in my arms. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But Bruce Shaw, current president and publisher of Harvard Common Press, wasn’t going to let any of us walk away disappointed and disappeared for a moment. The next thing I knew, I had one more cookbook in my hands — this one containing the recipe for my favorite dish of the entire brunch. And I couldn’t wait to get home, recreate it in my own kitchen, and then share it with you!
Pear Bread with Vanilla and Ginger
From: The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger
Makes: One 9-by-5 inch loaf
Oven: 350 degrees
Baking time: Approximately 1 hour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Grated zest from 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups peeled, cored pears, coarsely chopped
Make sure the oven rack is set to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan — or spray it with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, lemon zest, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, in three equal portions. Beat until smooth.
Gently add in the pears, mixing just until all pieces are evenly distributed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake on the center rack until the bread is golden brown and a cake tester, or knife, inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean — about 55 – 65 minutes. Turn the bread out of the pan onto a rack, and then turn it right side up to cool completely before cutting.
I am slightly obsessed with my stock of flavored sugars — from vanilla to star of anise. So for this recipe, I was happy to grab my container of vanilla sugar to help bring out that comforting, warming flavor of the bread.
While the combination of the pears, ginger, and vanilla have completely won me over in this bread, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t already thinking about what recipe I am going to try next — Avocado Bread with Pecans and Lime Glaze, Irish Soda Bread, or Black Bean Pancakes!
What is your favorite dining-out dish that you would love to be able to recreate at home?
(More) Additional Notes:
Following a puppy-related disaster with my first batch — in a nutshell, he didn’t like my favorite Fiesta platter as much as I did, but he did give the bread a giant two paws up — I was faced with recreating the bread once again. However, this time I wanted to play with things just a bit.
This time around I focused on the butter. One of the things I picked up from my time at America’s Test Kitchen is that sometimes butter is just better browned — if in doubt, just give their recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies a try.
So I grabbed a skillet and let the butter brown before starting on the first step. Just a few moments at the stove resulted in adding a richer flavor and a perfect amount of crisp to the outside of the bread.
It didn’t take long for the pup to start circling the table again, once I pulled this bread out of the oven to cool. So please, do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake — once the bread is cool, wrap it up tightly and store out of reach of any misfit pups in your household. Also, if you do choose to store this in your cupboard, you may want to explore baby-proofing the cupboard doors. Just speaking from personal experience.