Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Helping Hands

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
Albert Pike, American poet (1809-1891)

Helen Norris told this evening's audience of church ladies that she's an ordinary person with no particular talent except for the gift of gab. I'd say she's rather exceptional having risen up from pretty dreadful conditions to create the "Helping Hands" street mission in our inner city. She began by following behind the Salvation Army's soup truck and handing out clothes and blankets from her closet to the needy. Nine years later, her mostly volunteer and donation-based organization runs an impressive programme for people who don't have to prove they're needy. Helen was once in their shoes and her motto is, "Reaching out, one hand at a time, with love and respect." I was moved by her story and thankful for the chance to hear her mission. What an inspiration it is to learn of ordinary people doing amazing things for the benefit of others!

In fact, I was so moved by Helen and Helping Hands that I neglected to think about taking a photo for the Chocolate Box. So today's photo is of the Caramelized Pear Gingerbread that Mom and I made for the potluck. Since a couple of people this evening asked me for the recipe, I figured it was something I should share on the blog. It's easy and perfect for fall gatherings.

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
3 large, firm-ripe pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (we used 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cane syrup or molasses (we used molasses -- I love molasses!)
3/4 cup boiling water
5 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger (located with the candied fruits in your grocery store)

Directions:
1. In a large skillet, melt the butter over high heat. Add the pears and cook until the pears are tender and slightly caramelized, but still retain their shape, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. (You may need to cook the pears in 2 batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.) When the pears begin to have a nice color on both sides, add the brown sugar and pecans and cook, stirring gently, to coat the pears with the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Note: don't let the mixture cool too much because it solidifies like toffee.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and using the 2 teaspoons of butter, lightly grease a 10-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides. Arrange the slightly cooled pears and pecans in a single layer in the bottom of the cake pan. Pour any syrup from caramelizing into the cake pan as well.

3. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, pumpkin pie spice (nutmeg and allspice), and cinnamon. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, molasses, and boiling water. Add sugar mixture to the flour mixture, blending just until combined. Fold the crystallized ginger into the batter and pour into the prepared pan over the pears.

4. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake portion comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on a wire rack for 5 to 7 minutes. Place a large plate or cake stand on top of the cake and carefully invert the cake. Cool slightly and serve with Molasses Ice Cream (recipe on FoodNetwork.com) or whipped cream (which is very fine).

Source: An Emeril Lagasse recipe provided on the FoodNetwork website.

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