fresh gingerbread with port-poached pears
Makes 8 servings (with some gingerbread leftover)

The pears:

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 large ripe (but firm) pears with stems
  • 4 cups Ruby port
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 15 1/8-inch-thick slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Add the lemon juice to a large bowl of cold water. Peel the pears, leaving the stems intact, and use a melon baller to remove the core through the bottom end. Put the pears in the bowl of acidulated water.

Bring the port, sugar, ginger, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean to a boil in a large heavy Dutch oven over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the syrup for 10 minutes. Drain the pears, add them to the syrup and simmer until tender, turning frequently, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a large container and stand them upright. Boil the syrup until it is reduced to 1 3/4 cups, about 18 minutes, then pour the syrup over the pears. Cover and chill. (The pears can be prepared 1 day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

The cake:
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsulfured (light) molasses
  • 1/3 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350o F. Butter a 9x13x2-inch pan, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Mix the chopped ginger with the 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl; let stand, stirring frequently, until a syrup forms, about 30 minutes.

Mix the flour, baking soda and spices together in a medium bowl; reserve. Working in a mixer (preferably one fitted with a paddle attachment), beat the butter and brown sugar together until light. Add the molasses, coffee and chopped ginger mixture and beat until blended. (Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled.) Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the reserved dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating only until each addition is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool in the pan.

The cream:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Beat the cream, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and ginger until firm peaks form.

To serve, cut the gingerbread into 2 1/2 -inch squares. Place one cake square and one pear on each of eight plates. Spoon some syrup over each pear and a dollop of whipped cream alongside.

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