So as I've mentioned before we're a little broke right now, therefore, instead of giving friends crappy $10 gifts they'll throw away after the obligatory month of display, I'm baking them birthday cakes and they get to take the left-overs. So far - no complaints. My friend Kristy had a birthday last week and managed to get in to Austin and I offered her a cake of her choice. She asked me "umm... is there anything with cinnamon in it?" and I immediately went to my issue of Gourmet Magazine and pulled out this Spice cake. It is, without a doubt, the most complicated recipe I've ever posted. But believe me, it's worth the trouble.
A few notes on the maple buttercream icing: Buttercream icing is actually one of the hardest things I think I've ever made. It's very finicky and you have to be very careful to follow these instructions perfectly, or i promise you will end up with buttercream soup. Also, real buttercream icing has uncooked eggs in it (the eggs do get heated, but not thoroughly enough to kill all possible bacteria), if you are anywhere close to as paranoid as I am then I highly suggest using pasteurized eggs. Also, if you make your buttercream icing the day before you can refrigerate it, however, it will need to be revivied. Buttercream icing can actually be refrigerated up to 1 week in advance. The trick to reviving it is to bring it all the way to room temperature (you can put it over a warm water bath) then to whip the hell out of it. Seriously, on super high speed, for at least 2 or 3 minutes, possibly longer.
For Spice Cake:
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs
For Caramelized Pears
2 1/4 lb Bartlett or Bosc pears (about 5)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp brandy
For Maple Buttercream
4 large egg whites at room temp for about 30 minutes
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup maple sugar (this can be found at Whole Foods, although it's a little expensive, you can also make this, ask me if you're curious)
1 1/3 cups pure maple syrup
4 sticks unslated butter, cut into tablespoons and softened.
The Gourmet Magazine suggests using 3 (8-inch) round cake pans, but I didn't have any, so I used 2 9-inch round cake pans and adjusted the cooking time slightly.
Preheat the oven to 350 with rack in the middle and butter and flour your cake pans. (Cake can be made 1 day ahead and wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temp).
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl stir together milk and vanilla.
Beat butter and sugars with an electric or stand mixerat medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk/vanilla mixture (beginning and ending with the flour mixture) and mixing until just combined.
Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops, then rap the pans on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles (or you can have fun and make a lot of noise like me by dropping them on the counter from several inches up). Bake until pale golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for the 3 8-inch pans, or about 20 minutes for the 2 9-inch pans. Cool cakes in pans on racks for about 10 minutes then run a knife around the edge of pans and invert cakes onto racks. Turn right-side-up and cool completely.
Peel and core pears, then coarsely chop (or make your husband/boyfriend/significant other do this).
Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides*, then saute pears, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, and brandy - cook over high heat, stirring, until juices are deep golden and pears are tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.
*really that means until the butter has just completely melted, otherwise you'll burn it and have to toss out the first try like I did.
(just a reminder, please, please, make sure your butter is completely at room temp)
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using cleaned beaters at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add maple sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
Boil maple syrup in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, undisturbed, until it reaches "soft-ball stage" (That's around 238 to 242 on a candy thermometer) - about 3 to 7 minutes.
With mixer at a low speed immediately pour hot syrup in a very slow stream down side of bowl in to egg whites, then beat at high speed scraping down side of bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. It's really important that the meringue is cool, if you need to, put the bottom of the bowl over an ice bath for just a minute or two.
At medium speed add butter 1 tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition (if the buttercream is still soupy after about half the butter is added, then it's time for the ice bath). Continue beating until buttercream is smooth - it's okay if the mixture looks a little curdled before all the butter is added, but it should come together before the beating is finished.
To assemble the cake:
Put 1st layer on serving plate (can use pieces of aluminum foil to prevent getting icing on the plate) then spread with buttercream and top with pear filling (half or all depending on how many cakes you made). Top with second cake layer and either frost cake with remaining butter cream, or repeat with another layer.