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Day 140: Cold Sesame Noodles and Upside-down Pear Gingerbread

I have to share a snippet from one of the greatest emails I’ve ever received. This was sent not to me, but to someone I’ve never met from someone I’ve never met, and the one on the receiving end forwarded it to me because she thought I’d get a kick out of it. (I did.):

Just an update on the “pear gingerbread upsidedown cake” situation. I took two PGUCs to a CWA coffee morning and they very nearly caused a stampede. I sent the recipe to five women. One of them took it to a Conoco-Phillips coffee morning and handed out four copies of the recipe. Trouble is, now I feel like I can’t take it to any more coffee mornings because someone else is sure to show up with it – after all, pretty much everyone in town has the recipe by now. I predict that this recipe alone will cause Jakarta grocery stores to run out of molasses.

I have no idea what CWA stands for, but the very idea that Jakarta might be hurting for molasses as a result of this recipe has made me smile for days. So although I rarely make this except during the fall and at Thanksgiving, I can’t wait that long. Besides, there were several pears with giant bites out of them sitting in my fruit bowl.

And here’s the recipe that’s apparently causing a run on molasses in Jakarta:

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread

One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the pear slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. It does, however, scream for ice cream or whipped cream – provide a bowl of it alongside for people to serve themselves, or put a dollop on each slice. Pear gingerbread is also great with thick vanilla yogurt. It even works for breakfast.

1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. honey or corn syrup
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1-2 ripe but firm pears or tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger, or 1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice (optional)
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray an 8″ or 9″ round cake pan with nonstick spray.

To make the topping, melt the butter, honey and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat or microwave it until it’s smooth. (Or combine them in the bottom of the pan, put it in the oven until it melts, then take it out and stir it together.) Pour the mixture over the bottom of the pan and arrange the pear slices on top, placing them tightly together – they shrink a bit as they cook, so you can even get away with overlapping them.

To make the gingerbread batter, beat the butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. Add the egg, buttermilk, molasses, and ginger and beat until thoroughly combined.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir by hand or on the lowest speed of an electric mixer just until the batter is combined. Pour the batter over the sliced pears.

Bake the cake for about 40 minutes, until the top is springy to the touch. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a plate while it’s still hot. If it cools too much and sticks to the pan, warm it in the oven again before you try to invert it. Don’t worry if any pear slices stick to the bottom of the pan – simply peel them out and place them back on top of the cake where they belong.

And here’s a more summery thing to do with it: to make Blueberry Gingerbread, omit the topping and stir 1 cup of fresh or frozen (unthawed) blueberries into the batter. Bake it as directed in an 8″x8″ pan, and cut into squares.

For dinner, cold sesame noodles. Sesame noodles because I’ve had this weird craving for them for months, and also: have you seen what we’ve been eating lately? I actually wished we had some tofu that I could press the moisture out of and caramelize in the way that Heidi does on 101 Cookbooks. I mean, look at the mahogany colour of that tofu! (I generally don’t consider myself a tofu fan, but I do like it once in awhile when it’s nicely flavoured and crispy. The trick to this is pressing some of the excess moisture out. Soft tofu can also easily travel incognito in things like smoothies and peanut sauce.) My ulterior motive is a piece on picnics tomorrow morning for which I needed to do a test batch of noodles before bringing it to the studio.

A few weeks ago I was at an Asian grocery (Arirang, beside Community Natural Foods on 10th Avenue SW) looking for panko, and picked up a couple packages of fresh noodles. They are the thick(ish) ones you see in Shanghai noodle dishes at Chinese restaurants.

My intent was to take a stab at Shanghai noodles, since W devours them whenever we get takeout. Halfway through the cold sesame noodles it occurred to me that he might not appreciate a dish of cold, vinegary noodles, and so pulled some out of the pot and fried them up in a slick of sesame oil (in the pan that had just done the garlic and ginger), with a drizzle of soy sauce and dab of honey (I have no idea what they do to Shanghai noodles to make them that way), and they turned out pretty well, actually. I sprinkled them with sesame seeds, and he devoured them just as enthusiastically as those that cost $12.95 a plate.

It occurred to me then that my favourite cold sesame noodles might very well have been sautéed before being cooled down and tossed with the dressing/sauce; I think next time rather than just boil and cool the noodles, I’ll give them a quick flash in the pan, too, before cooling them off.

Cold Sesame Noodles

1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice or balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey or sugar
a tiny squirt (about 1/4 tsp.) chili sauce or sambal oelek
1 lb. fresh Chinese noodles, rice noodles or spaghetti
2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts (optional)

In a small skillet (or a large one, if you want to sauté your noodles after you boil them) heat the canola oil and sauté the garlic and ginger for a few minutes, until soft but not brown. Transfer to a bowl and add the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, honey and chili sauce.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package directions, or until tender. Drain them in a colander and run them under cold water to stop them from cooking and cool them down. (Alternatively, drain them and then toss them into a hot skillet with a bit of sesame and/or canola oil, and toss for a few minutes, until the noodles start to brown; set aside to cool before tossing with the dressing.)

Add to the bowl of dressing along with the green onions and sesame seeds and toss well to coat. Let sit for an hour, or refrigerate overnight. Serve topped with chopped peanuts, if you like. (this is best served at room temperature.)

Serves 4-6.


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8 comments on “Day 140: Cold Sesame Noodles and Upside-down Pear Gingerbread

  1. Dana mccauley
    May 20, 2008 at 4:17 am

    Mmm..gingergread. Good meal. Wish I’d been there!

  2. elektra
    May 20, 2008 at 8:56 am

    CWA is Canadian Women’s Association–a social group an expat joins to stay in touch with Canadian culture and munch on delicious pear upside down gingerbread cake. Think how delicious that would taste with Indonesian coffee.

    Wicked photos, BTW.

  3. Theresa
    May 20, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I think it’s the canadian welders association. 🙂

  4. Julie
    May 20, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Your up-side down pear gingerbread cake is so easy and very delicious. My kids love gingerman bread and this cake is as good! Bravo Julie.

  5. Barbara J
    December 22, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Gingerbread = holidays and this is a great addition to other recipes I have. In fact, I’d say it moves right to the top of the list. Not only did it get gobbled right up but it filled the house with the most wonderful aroma while baking. Thanks for the great recipe and all your hard work this entire year.

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