Eat, bake and be merry

Chef Paula Stonoga shares her recipe for cassava cake, a favourite in Cayman. In days gone by, Caymanians would bake the traditional ‘heavy cakes’ several weeks before Christmas. A dense and sticky sweet treat, the cakes were made from grated cassava, yam, sweet potato or pumpkin.

Cassava Cake
2lbs cassava, grated
1lb dark brown sugar
1 can coconut milk (plus additional equal parts of water)
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 stick of butter
1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a saucepan add the butter, coconut milk, water, brown sugar, salt, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon.

Bring to a boil until the liquid is reduced by half. Reserve 1 cup of this syrup.

In a bowl, mix by hand the cassava and syrup until well combined.

Grease and flour an 8X8-inch baking pan and pour in the mixture. Bake at 400F for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F and bake for another 20 minutes.

In the last 10 minutes, add the reserved syrup on top of the cake. Let chill completely to serve.
Eat, bake and be merry

Chef Paula shares a recipe for this classic French poached pear tart that is made with a sweet tart dough and filled with poached pears and frangipane. Serve this elegant dessert over the holiday season for a special treat.

Pear Frangipane Tart
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, fluffed, spooned and levelled
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 stick and 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 cups cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise pod
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
2 strips lemon peel (without the pith), plus half a lemon
3 pears, firm and slightly ripe

FRANGIPANE FILLING: (almond cream)
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup almond flour
3 large whole eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)

Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Prepare the tart dough
Lightly grease a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Pulse until well mixed.

Add the cold cubed butter and pulse repeatedly until the butter is well distributed into the flour. You shouldn’t be able to see any distinguishable pieces.

Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract and pulse continuously until the dough just starts to clump together. Note: It might appear very dry at first, but if you continue to pulse and process, it will come together. Be patient.

Transfer the dough and any smaller pieces to a clean countertop and knead – pressing the dough down with the heel of your hand – until it is completely smooth. It will resemble sugar cookie dough in texture. Press the dough into the greased tart pan with a removable bottom)- it should be just under 1/4-inch thick; you should have some dough leftover – and chill in the fridge for a minimum of one hour or freeze for at least 30 minutes.

If you are preparing the dough ahead of time: press it into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour or up to 2 days. If following this method, take the dough out of the fridge at least 15 to 20 minutes before rolling, as it will be too hard to roll right from the fridge.

Roll the dough out (between pieces of parchment or wax paper to prevent sticking), carefully pick up and transfer the dough to the tart pan, using fingers to push in dough and gently shape the tart.

If it cracks, just simply patch or press the pieces back together. This is a forgiving tart dough. Make sure to press dough tightly inside corners and sides. The dough can be made up to 2 days in advance or frozen up to a month ahead.

Poach the pears
As the tart dough is chilling, poach the pears. Combine the cold water and granulated sugar in a medium pot (roughly 3-quart capacity). Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise pod, vanilla bean paste and lemon peel.

Peel the pears, leaving the stem on, and gently rub each pear with the lemon half to prevent the pears from oxidizing. Using melon baller or small paring knife, core the pears from the bottom end. Using a large spoon, gently lower the cored, whole pears into the poaching liquid. The poaching liquid should almost completely cover the pears.

Return the poaching liquid to a low simmer, cover the surface of the pot with a parchment round, and simmer the pears, occasionally flipping them during the cooking process, for about 12 to 15 minutes or until tender.

Remember that you will be cooling the pears in the liquid, so do not overcook. You can test whether the pears are done by piercing the pear (through the bottom end) with a paring knife. The pears should be tender, yet not at all mushy.

Cool the pears to room temperature in the poaching liquid. Serve or transfer the pears to a large container and refrigerate for up to one week. The poaching liquid can be kept, discarded, or used to store the poached pears.

Preheat the oven to 375F with a rack in the centre position.

Lightly grease the shiny side of a piece of aluminium foil and fit it, buttered side down, against the chilled tart dough. Fill the foil with baking weights, dried beans, or granulated sugar (all options work well). Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and weights, and bake uncovered for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the shell is lightly golden brown and cooked through. Set tart pan on a wire rack to cool completely before adding the frangipane and poached pears.

Make the frangipane filling
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand-held mixer). Beat over medium speed until creamy.

Over low speed, add the almond flour, alternating with egg until the ingredients are incorporated evenly. Add the flour and mix to combine. Add the vanilla extract, lemon zest, and rum (if using) and mix until just combined.

Use right away if the other tart components are ready, or transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the tart
Place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Fill the pre-baked tart shell with the frangipane filling and spread into an even layer with an offset spatula. Place the poached pears on a few paper towels to help soak up any excess poaching liquid (this will help prevent it from seeping into the frangipane).

Cut the poached pears in half, removing the stem and any core that might remain. Slice the pear halves crosswise into thin slices. Using a spatula, carefully lift each sliced pear half and place on the frangipane, with the narrow end of the pear facing the centre of the tart, fanning the slices apart slightly as you work. Repeat with the remaining pear halves, spacing them evenly around the tart.

Bake at 375F for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the frangipane has risen substantially around the pears and is deep golden brown in colour. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool until lukewarm or room temperature before removing the sides of the tart pan.

Before serving, dust lightly with powdered sugar. Serve plain or with whipped cream. While you can prepare several components of this tart ahead, it is best served the day of baking. Any leftovers can be kept at room temperature for 1 to 2 days.

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