baking, butter, cake, chocolate, cooking, dessert, holidays, home cooking, huzhou, recipes, Thanksgiving


12.02.09 | 5 Comments

Western/American holidays in China have a totally different meaning than they do at ‘home.’ Having a Christmas party or a Thanksgiving dinner is, at least for me, more about nostalgia and comfort than about the actual holiday. I didn’t have a big party at my house so that we could all think about the Pilgrims. I had all my friends come over because I couldn’t be with my family. If I couldn’t cook for my family, I reasoned, I should cook for my friends like they are my family. And they kind of are.

That would be why I got up at seven AM on a Saturday to start a cake. My ginger pear upside down cake is not a simple cake. There are a lot of steps, and without an electric mixer, baking just takes more time here anyway.

I first made this cake about two years ago. The deliciousness lived on in my memory.

z_pear circle2

I was a little nervous about how the cake would come out, given its aforementioned non-simplicity and the fact that my toaster oven bakes unevenly. Parts in the back bake faster than those near the door, and the outside cooks way faster than the inside. But the main reason I love cooking and baking in Huzhou is because I like a challenge.

I was up to it on Saturday. I was in for a happy surprise when I pulled back the dripping-with-butter parchment.





It was perfect.

z_cake top3

I had visions of myself dropping it on the floor.

Luckily, I didn’t.


I then moved on to prep for my cornbread biscuit stuffing. While the original recipe calls for yellow onion, I, being me, decided that shallots would be a better option and bought some in Shanghai.

z_shallot peels

The problem with shallots is that they are small. And when you’re cooking 15 servings-worth of stuffing, that’s a lot of shallots. My hands still smell like shallots three days later.


I was definitely crying by the time I had peeled and chopped them all.

I crumbled the cornbread and the biscuits.

z_crumbled cornbread

Added pecans, dried cranberries, and dried sage, because in China there’s no such thing as fresh sage.

z_crumbled cranberries4

I had neglected to take into account that 15 servings of stuffing might be more stuffing than could actually it into my wok. I had to divide up the bowls and cook two batches separately on the stove. I had planned to use bacon in my dressing, but couldn’t find it at Tesco, so I bought some really fatty pork instead.



I rendered the fat in the pan, removed the fat chunks but left the meat, and cooked it all together. I then had to bake all the stuffing in four separate batches.

z_stuffing pot

These aluminum tins were just slightly too big to fit in the oven two at a time. So I squished the sides and forced them in like an Escalade in a compact car parking spot.

z_stuffing pair1

This dressing was SO good. I tasted a piece and it was really hard not to eat a whole ray of it before my guests even walked in the door.

z_stuffing pairdone

z_stuffing done3

I also made Paul a birthday cake, but since I wasn’t sure of his tastes, I made a simple yellow cake two days before and froze it. So as it defrosted, I made some chocolate frosting.

z_chocolate melt2

And there was lots and lots of this:


I did so many dishes last week that I still can’t bring myself to wash the last of the dishes from Saturday. I’m a total pig, and I’m sorry, but I am dished OUT.

By the time I’d finished all my work Saturday, it was 4:30 and my guests were due at 6. I was ready to pass out then and there, but I had to make myself presentable. I had just enough time to drink some tea and put on real clothes before the mayhem began.

Ginger Pear Upside Down Cake

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated cinnamon
4-5 medium/large ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons peeled grated ginger
3 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil or butter a 9-inch springform pan, line it with a 10-inch circle of parchment and butter that too.

For the topping, melt 3 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium heat for about one minute, then pour it into the prepared springform pan, completely coating the parchment. Place the quartered pears on top of the butter-sugar mix, lining the pieces tightly in circles so that none of the bottom shows through.

For the batter, cut 2 sticks of butter into 1-inch pieces and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add 3/4 cup brown sugar and cream until smooth and pale tan color. Add grated ginger and beat. Scrape down the bowl. Addeggs one at a time, make sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Slowly pour in the molasses and beat fully to mix. The mix will look like it’s breaking or curdling–don’t worry. In a spearate bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine. Alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, stirring and folding with a rubber spatula until dry ingredients are just absorbed. Don’t overmix. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake about an hour and 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Let the cake cook 10 minutes in the pan on a rack. Cover it with the serving plate and invert. Release the pan sides and lift away, gently lift off the base and peel off the parchment. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Good luck waiting that long.

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