Review by Kristina Sepetys
Fruit Cake: Recipes for the Curious Baker
By Jason Schreiber
(William Morrow Cookbooks, 2020)
“Fruit cake” conjures images of the alcohol-soaked, dried fruit and nut–studded firm loaves popular around the holidays. In perusing the 75 recipes in Jason Schreiber’s new cookbook, I found that it gives a big nod to that traditional cake and then goes on to cover a whole lot more. The collection of recipes for cakes and other crumb-y sweets uses 38 different types of fruit, drawing on their natural sweetness and juice, and combines ingredients in nuanced and flavorful ways.
Schreiber is a food stylist (besides having trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York), and the 75 recipes are all creatively constructed in a very manageable way for home cooks and well-photographed.
A chapter called “Soaked” includes 10 recipes for the sorts of liquored desserts one might associate with the “fruit cake” moniker, like the Pomegranate Molasses Cake and a Fig, Port, and Chocolate Cake. Other chapters include more basic cakes that sit nicely with a cup of tea or coffee. Recipes for banana bread, Irish soda bread, and applesauce cake will be familiar to cooks, while others are more inventive, like the Mango Coconut Cashew Bites; Blood Orange Bee Sting Cake (a particularly pretty yeasted two-layer cake topped with thinly sliced oranges); Honey Yuzu Kasutera (a pillow-soft sponge cake made with bread flour); Semolina Cake with fennel and raisins; a flavorful, moist coconut pound cake mixed up in a food processor; and Orange Currant Zaleti, chunky squares made with polenta.
Schreiber’s astute and careful approach to baking, combined with his wry wit and occasional irreverent humor, make for a great collection of attractive, tasty desserts using the many lovely, locally grown fruits available to Californians.
Edible East Bay’s book editor Kristina Sepetys is eager to share her ideas and book recommendations with our readers.
Poached Pear and Quince Crumb Cake recipe from FRUIT CAKE by Jason Schreiber. Copyright © 2020 by Jason Schreiber. Used with permission by William Morrow. All rights reserved. Photo: Ethan Calabrese
POACHED PEAR AND QUINCE CRUMB CAKE
Makes about 15 servings
For the poached pears
2 small Bosc pears (352 grams), peeled, cored, and quartered
½ cup (106 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 inches (30 grams) fresh ginger, thinly sliced
7 green cardamom pods, cracked
For the crumb topping
1 1/3 cups (189 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (141 grams) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon (1.5 grams) coarse salt
½ teaspoon (1 gram) freshly ground cardamom
½ cup (1 stick or 113 grams0 unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces and softened
For the cake and assembly
Pan Goo (see below), for greasing the pan
1 ½ cups (213 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (212 grams) granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons (4.5 grams) baking powder
½ teaspoon (1.5 grams) coarse salt
½ cup (1 stick or 113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces and softened
2 large eggs
½ cup (125 milliliters) whole milk
2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) pure vanilla extract
½ cup (100 grams) membrillo (quince paste), cut into ½ inch cubes
In a small saucepan, place the pears along with the light brown sugar, ginger, and cardamom pods. Add enough water so that the pears just begin to float—about 2 cups (500 milliliters) should do it. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a low simmer with the lid askew just enough to drive your OCD wild. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pears feel tender when pierced with a knife but are not falling apart. Let them cool completely in the syrup, then refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.
While you’re at it, you might as well make the crumb topping. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, salt, and cardamom. Add the butter, working it into the flour mixture with your hands, until the mixture forms clumps when you squeeze it firmly. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) with a rack in the center position. Line the bottom and two long sides of a 9 x 13 x 2-inch cake pan with a sheet of parchment paper, leaving about 2 inches overhanging the sides. Brush with Pan Goo. (Skip the parchment if you’re okay serving the cake directly out of the pan.)
Pull the pears out of the syrup and shake off the excess, then slice them the long way into scant ½-inch-thick pieces. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and beat on medium speed until it’s completely incorporated and the mixture becomes sandy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the milk mixture. When all of the dry ingredients have been moistened, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the batter is smooth and voluminous, about 2 minutes longer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure no dry bits are stuck at the bottom.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread to the edges with a small offset spatula. Evenly scatter the pear slices and cubes of membrillo over the batter, then generously cover everything with glorious clumps of crumb topping.
Bake the until the cake springs back to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan. Use the overhanging parchment paper as handles to lift the cake out of the pan to serve, or slice and serve it right from the pan. Either way it’s delicious.
The cake will still be good tomorrow, if you keep it covered at room temperature.
PAN GOO RECIPE
I’ll admit it: I’ve been a parchment fiend, and my careless use has added up to unthinkable amounts of kitchen trash. Keep this mix on hand for a quick lube and easy slide.
Makes about ¾ cup (375 milliliters)
1⁄4 cup (62 milliliters) neutral oil, such as safflower
1⁄3 cup (47 grams) all- purpose flour
In a small container with a lid, whisk the oil and flour together until combined. Brush onto baking pans in place of parchment paper or cooking spray.
Keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks. A month seems like maybe too long.