Pear, Bleu Cheese, and Watercress Toast

So here comes my second recipe in which I can’t for the life of me remember where I originally saw it. It was during one of those busy rush weeks where I was able to spare a few minutes flipping through a magazine at home… or maybe at a bookstore, or even possibly the library… and happened to see this combo of pear and bleu cheese on toast with a watercress garnish. The first few thoughts that flashed through my mind at the photograph were something like, “Yum: bleu cheese and pear!…on TOAST?!…eww…and – what the – watercress??” As you can see, while my palate has advanced significantly in the last few years it somehow had yet to realize such a combination of sweet fruit, salty cheese, crusty bread, and peppery greens could be absolutely FABULOUS!

(please excuse the scratches, the previous tenants had apparently never heard of a cutting board)

About a week or so after glancing at the mysterious recipe I still could not get the snack out of my mind and decided to ignore my reservations and give it a go. I went our local version of a Whole Foods store to find a good quality bleu cheese and was nearly overwhelmed with the options! An entire 5 foot-long shelf was dedicated to varieties of bleu cheese alone. Luckily, small notes accompanied most of the varieties explaining their flavor notes and serving suggestions. This small half-moon of Fourme D’Ambert was described as being soft, sweet and “good with pears”. For lack of any other knowledge I decided that was my cheese and took it home.

Once home I looked up a bit more about my cheese of choice and found out that Fourme D’Ambert is one of the oldest French cheeses, having been dated back to the Roman empire! Reportedly,a likeness of the cheese can be found sculpted above the entrance to a medieval chapel in Chaulme” and “legend has it that Fourme D’Ambert cheese was known to the Druids who worshiped in the Monts de Forez in the time of the Gauls“. Suddenly my humble snack had found itself sporting quite the pedigree. It’s always a privilege to try something into which generations of craftsmanship have gone and I thoroughly enjoyed eating my own little bite of history.

Pear, Bleu Cheese, and Watercress Toast

Ingredients:

4 slices of light, crusty bread such as sourdough

3  oz.  mild, soft bleu cheese like Fourme D’Ambert

2   red Anjou pears

fresh watercress

Procedure:

  1. Line thin slices of pear on bread, covering the surface but not overlapping the fruit. Crumble bleu cheese over the top and broil in the oven (or toaster oven) for a minute or two until cheese has melted and toast has turned lightly brown (watch it, it can burn quickly!)
  2. Place a few small sprigs of watercress on top and enjoy immediately.


Beezer’s Notes:

If you are like I was and are having any reservations on this flavor combo, please try it. It is really very tasty and the textures work great together as well: the warm, soft pear and cheese are balanced by the crunch of the toast and the cool fresh watercress. As a bonus, this is a pretty healthy snack, so no guilt trip here filling up on as many slices as you wish! 🙂 Also, if you are far more experienced than I and already know you’ll love this flavor combo, perhaps you’d like the challenge of Judy’s Caramelized Pear and Brie Crostini. As part of her return to the blogosphere, the mastermind behind Domestic Goddess Adventures came up with this beautiful spin on the cheese/pear/toast theme and – coincidentally – posted her invention shortly after I had made my snack. I was happy to see that someone else was inspired in a similar way and felt vindicated in loving my flavors as much as I do, haha. Give either recipe a shot and tell me what you think!

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥



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Sticky Pear and Walnut Upside-Down Gingerbread

I want to start off by saying that I had never made gingerbread before in my life, nor an upside-down cake of any kind. I also had never baked with pears, so right off the bat this recipe would kick-up my baking experience three-fold. I had tagged it for later and forgotten about it until my grandmother and I made a “baking date” and I needed a recipe. Baking with my grandmother (a woman who received her degree in home economics), I wanted a dessert that would call for readily available ingredients but also be challenging enough to draw on her experience. Sticky Pear and Walnut Upside-Down Gingerbread from Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey fit the bill.

Sticky Pear and Walnut Upside-Down Gingerbread

(from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey)

Ingredients:

For the topping…

4     T   unsalted butter

¾    C   firmly packed light brown sugar

2          ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced

1/3  C   coarsely chopped walnuts

For the batter…

1    C     all-purpose flour, plus 1 T

½    t     baking soda

¼    t     salt

2     t     cinnamon

2     t     ground ginger

¼    t     freshly grated nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

1           large egg

¾    C    firmly packed light brown sugar

6     T     dark unsulphered molasses

½    C     buttermilk

4     T     unsalted butter, melted

Process:

  1. Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8″ round cake pan or prep with cooking spray.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together in a medium bowl. Spread mixture over the bottom and halfway up the sides of the prepped pan. Sprinkle with the pears and walnuts and set aside.
  3. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices into a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together egg, brown sugar, molasses, buttermilk, and melted butter. Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking just until combined. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit and nut mixture into the bottom of the pan.
  4. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top of the cake is firm and shiny and the sides pull away from the pan. Remove the cake and let cool for a few minutes. Next, place a large plate over the top of the pan and carefully turn the cake out onto it. Any sticky sauce, fruit, or nuts left in the pan can be scraped out and smoothed over the cake top.
  5. Let the cake cool for another 5 minutes or so before serving.

 

 

Serves 6

Beezer’s Notes:

This cake – erm, bread? – is amazing! Oh, the flavors, the textures, the color! My photos definitely do NOT do it justice (working on that, but that’s another story). It is soft and gooey and spicy and juicy all at once, with a chewiness at the very outer edges – oh and did I mention it is the perfect pairing with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream? The tastes and textures remind me fleetingly of banana’s foster with a gingerbread flare, but that’s probably due only to my limited experience of baking with fruit. I could ramble on about this dessert for ages, but I should probably mention a surprise we had.

We used an eight inch cake pan, as instructed, but my grandmother’s pan had a shorter rim than I normally see. I noticed this as soon as she pulled it from the cupboard but didn’t think a cake like this would rise enough to worry. Well, I was both right and wrong: about fifteen minutes into bake time the batter began to overflow the container in a bubbly mass. It was a good thing I was with my grandmother because such an event would normally cause me to freak out (oh no, oh no, oh no!! what-do-I do?!), but Mommom just said, “Oops! Oh well,” closed the oven door, and ignored the mess. Now that’s a pro.

In the end our cake did come out of the pan denser and more moist than I had initially envisioned (since the majority of the depth was taken up by the fruit topping as apposed to, say, half) – but who would complain about that? 🙂  Also, the fact that our cake didn’t “pull away” from the sides of the pan, as described in the book, gave the edges a satisfyingly chewy quality to them that offset the juicy sponge of the rest of the dessert.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥



 

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