Yes, cake mixes are easy and yield quite nice cakes with minimum fuss. Nonetheless, sometimes you want a different sort of cake--one from scratch that actually tastes homemade, but that doesn't require too much work. This Caramel-Pear Cake fits the bill nicely. It's moist, not too sweet, and actually pretty healthy as cakes go. Even better, the cake is quick to mix up. I bake two loaves, which makes sharing easier, but you could certainly bake the cake in a tube or bundt pan, if you'd prefer. The cake also is a great option for a "make ahead" dessert. The flavors improve if you make the cake a day ahead. Of course, if you'd like, the cake is also great warm with a scoop of ice cream alongside.
Caramel-Pear Cake -- Makes 2 Loaves or 1 Bundt Cake
2/3 cup of canola oil
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1 cup of dark brown sugar
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon of caramel extract or flavoring
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of white whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 cup of chopped pecans, preferably toasted
3 1/2-4 cups of cored, chopped pears, peeled or not (3-4 large pears)
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of butter
Additional pecans (optional)
Coat two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray or line them with foil and coat the foil with spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, sugars, vanilla, and caramel extract until thoroughly combined. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring with a spoon just until everything is combined. Stir in the pears and pecans and divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake the loaves for about an hour or until a pick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out with no wet batter attached.
While the loaves are baking, in a large microwave safe bowl or pyrex measuring container, combine the buttermilk, dark brown sugar, and butter. Microwave the mixture for 5-6 minutes, stirring it every 30 seconds or so, until the mixture becomes thick, brown, and syrupy. The mixture will look curdled, but don't worry about it. Keep stirring. When the cakes are done, remove them from the oven and pour some of the hot caramel mixture over each loaf. Sprinkle on the pecans, if you're using them, and the remainder of the caramel mixture. Let the cakes cool a little before serving them, warm and oozing caramel sauce. Or let the cakes sit overnight and serve them at room temperature.