I have been married ten years today. Ten years ago, I made a tiny little white cake filled with caramelized pears and pastry cream and covered with penuche frosting, packed a bottle of chamgagne, and went down to city hall. For me there is no celebrating without sugar. I didn’t need the wedding part, but there was not going to be any kind of getting married to anybody, without a cake.
For the best white cake I ever had you have to try Rose Levy Barenbaum’s version from the Cake Bible. It is alchemy at it’s best. Otherwise, soften 1/2 cup of butter. It is critical to have the butter soft, but not runny. Gradually mix in 1 1/2 cups of sugar, creaming little bits of sugar into the butter until with each addition, it is completely smooth. Sift together 3 cups of sifted flour (sift before measuring) and 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Add this alternately with 1 cup of milk. Beat 4 egg whites until they are just beginning to set with soft peaks. If you beat them too much, they will have given up all the oomph they’ve got before they make it to the oven. Think of a balloon. At a certain point, if you keep blowing up the balloon, it is going to pop. Bake in 2 greased and floured (or sugared) 9 inch pans at 350 degrees until the top springs back when touched.
Peel, core and slice two pears. Toss with sugar to coat. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a heavy frying pan, and when it stops sizzling, add the pears. Don’t move them in the pan until they have a gorgeous caramelization around the edges. Toss and cook a bit more until slightly softened. Cool.
For the pastry cream, there are a lot of fantastic pastry creams out there, but I love the good old pudding recipe made with two egg yolks instead of the one egg that you would normally use. Bring 2 cups of whole milk to a simmer with a vanilla bean that you have sliced down the middle and scraped into the milk. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 a cup of sugar that has been mixed with 1/3 cup of flour.
Be sure to add the sugar and flour mixture very gradually to the egg yolks so that they don’t granulate. No big deal, it’s just like making vinaigrette.
Add a little hot milk to this drop by drop to temper the egg. When you have about a quarter cup of the hot milk in there, you can go ahead and whisk in the rest all at once. Bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add a pinch of salt. Taste. It should make you feel all lovey-dovey. Cool.
Fill the layers with the pears and the cream. Frost the whole thing with penuche.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. When it is completely cool, beat in 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar.