The Midnight Kitchen

I’ve avoided gluten-free flour blends, for the past few years. My forays into baking with these products generally resulted in gummy, tough pastry and breads, so I gave up. Instead, I turned back to my roots–Southern food, specifically that of central Mississippi–and Italian home cuisine.

There are no Italians anywhere in my family history; we are Native, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Swiss Amish, diaspora’d across the US. I have no excuse for my passion for Italian food, other than my mother’s extensive cookbook collection, Julia Child, and my own teenaged stint working in a kitchen supply store.

Not that Julia Child cooked Italian. Nonetheless, she made the idea of European food seem accessible, and the techniques of French cookery are only one (trans-Atlantic) step from Southern cookery, so it was only a hop, skip, and jump to the Mediterranean.

Thus, when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I fell back on what I know, and know that I like: cornbread and almond meal cakes. These products are heavier and denser than cakes made from wheat flour. They are hearty things, bursting with texture and flavor. Delicate French sponges and steamed English puddings seem mushy and insipid in comparison.

It was with this in mind that I embarked on yesterday’s pear cake. The basic recipe is the same as Southern corn bread. Equal parts millet flour, fine corn meal, and almond meal substitute for the usual wheat flour and corn meal, and I upped the eggs to one egg per cup of meal, doubled the butter, and added three tablespoons of sugar.

I buttered two 8 inch cake pans and lined them with parchment. I then coated the bottom of the pans with a layer of brown-sugar caramel and thinly sliced, peeled and cored pears. I poured the batter over the pears and caramel, and baked the cakes at 350F for 25 minutes, when my testing stick came out clean.

The cooled layers were stacked with the pears in the middle, and I frosted the cake with a thin layer of lemon cream cheese (1/4 cup cream cheese, a few drops of culinary lemon oil, and a tablespoon of sugar). The result is a hearty cake, rustic but sophisticated in flavor.

Next time, I might add some spices to the batter, perhaps a pinch each of mace, allspice, and cinnamon. Cardamom and anise might also be complementary.

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