When the weather turns cold, I look forward to the colors and aromas of autumn and winter. I love the cozy evenings by the fireplace and pulling on sweaters to ward off the chill. The smell of cinnamon and ginger and hearty filling meals that warm up the coldest days. It is the perfect time to head to the kitchen and get creative with seasonal fruits. This year we have had more than our share of the cold weather, but before the pears and apples completely disappear from the market, make this cake – you’ll be glad you did!
I enjoy creating desserts that are light and perfect after the heavier meals we indulge in when it is cold outside. Now that the weather is starting to warm up and the snow is melting, it is time to brush the snow off your grill and give it a good scrubbing. And while you’re out there, why not use it to make dessert!
I was looking for something that is easy to make and a change from the typical holiday desserts of the season. A little brainstorming with Curt McAdams, author of LiveFire, fellow Char-Broil All Star, and champion baker on the grill , and I had a bunch of ideas spinning in my brain. Thanks Curt!
Instead of using the oven, I grilled today’s dessert. To do this you need to create an oven-like setup on your barbecue. You can use charcoal or wood, but a gas grill will give you the most consistent results and is the easiest to control.
Heating only one side of the grill’s burners allows you to cook by indirect heat, replicating the type of heat source in our ovens, but instead of the heat coming from beneath, it will come from the side. The lid of the grill and the temperature differential draws the air and heat across the grill, mimicking a convection oven.
I love winter fruits and wanted to share a new favorite cake with you. I combined pears and apples, added spices that are a bit different from what everyone expects, made it gluten-free, and instead of baking it in the oven, I baked it on my grill.
One of the techniques I used is called double panning. By stacking one sheet pan inside another, you create a layer of insulation and slightly elevate the baking dishes getting them closer to the circulating hot air. When you are baking on a grill, this is very helpful.
Unless you have an really large grill, regular baking sheets will not fit lengthwise over a single burner. I turned to my quarter sheets for the solution. Standard baking sheets are called half sheets because they are half the size of professional versions. Two quarter sheets fit inside the normal ones and are available online. My grill perfectly held the quarter sheets with plenty of space above the baking dishes, allowing the air to circulate like it does in an oven. Because you have most of the heat on one side, you will need to spin the baking dish halfway through to make sure both sides bake and brown evenly.
This is a very delicate cake, so to help get it out of the baking pan, I use a parchment “sling”. I use pre-cut sheets of parchment paper, folding one to fit the pan and long enough to hang over two of the edges. It is important to get the cake out of the pan because the heat of the pan will create steam, so as soon as the cake has firmed up enough to hold together, gently lift it out of the pan and set on a rack to finish cooling. This helps the cake stay tender without getting too moist.
Enjoy this celebration of winter’s beautiful fruits. After meals this is the perfect touch of light sweetness. It will definitely be making a regular appearance on our menus.
Happy Spring Everyone!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
You can also bake this in the oven at 400°F for about 40 minutes. But the touch of smokiness really enhances the natural sweetness of the fruits and telling your guests that you are grilling dessert is a really fun conversation starter!
Use a gluten-free flour blend with a touch of xanthan gum to give the delicate cake a little more structure to help hold the fruit. Parchment paper will help keep the cake from breaking apart as you remove it from the pan – gluten-free flours are not as sturdy as regular wheat flour.
- 3 tbsp melted butter, cooled to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (63 to 68 grams) regular all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend
- 1/8 tsp xanthan gum (if you are using gluten-free flours)
- 1 tsp baking powder (gluten-free)
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 2 small (or 1-1/2 large) firm-ripe pears, halved and core/stem removed
- 2 medium sweet apples, peeled, quartered and core removed
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1/3 cup half and half, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla paste or extract
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Powdered sugar, optional
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream, optional
- Mint sprigs, optional
- Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and line it with parchment paper cut long enough to slightly drape over opposite sides to create a sling with handles. Lightly butter the parchment.
- Set out two quarter-sheet pans, stacking them one inside the other. Place the butter in a heatproof non-metallic bowl and microwave about 30 seconds to melt it. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Set up the Grill: Remove the warming rack if your grill has one. Light a burner on one side of the grill and turn it to High heat to warm up the grill. Keep the lid closed. You need the grill at 400°F. If needed, you can turn on another burner and set it to low. Leave one (or more) burners off - the cake will bake off the heat. For my 3-burner grill, I had the far left burner on High, the middle burner and the right burner off to maintain the correct temperature.
- Combine the Dry Ingredients: In a medium-mixing bowl, place the flour blend, xanthan gum (if using), baking powder, baking soda, mace and nutmeg. Whisk together until completely blended. Set aside.
- Prepare the Fruit: Split the pears lengthwise; remove the core and stem. Cut the halves crosswise into uniformly thin slices. Place them in a mixing bowl. Cut the peeled apples into quarters and remove the cores. Cut the apple pieces crosswise the same thickness as the pears. Add them to the bowl; set aside.
- Make the Batter: In the bowl of your stand mixer, place the sugar, lemon zest, eggs, and salt. Beat on low until combined and then increase the speed to medium. Beat until the mixture has increased in volume, the sugar is nearly dissolved, and the mixture has lightened to a pale yellow, about 2 to 3 minutes. (A hand mixer will take closer to 4 minutes.)
- While the eggs and sugar are beating, pour the half and half into a measuring cup with a pouring spout. Add the melted butter and vanilla. Stir together. When the egg mixture is thick and creamy, add the milk mixture and beat together. As soon as they are fully incorporated add the lemon juice and beat in. Stop the mixer and add the flour blend. Beat until just incorporated and the batter is smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a flexible silicone spatula to be sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients or lumps of zest in bowl.
- Add the prepared fruit to the batter and gently fold it in, making sure each piece is coated with the batter. Pour the batter and fruit into the prepared baking pan. Gently press pieces of fruit down into the batter so there are not too many sticking up. It may not look like there will be enough batter, but as the cake bakes it puffs up around the fruit and holds everything together.
- Grill-Bake the Cake: Set the baking pan with the cake on the doubled quarter sheet baking pans and slide it onto the cooler side of the grill. Close the cover and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes or until the cake has puffed up, the top is golden brown, and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. About halfway through, spin the baking sheets so that both sides of the cake have equal time facing the heat. (Mine took about 10 minutes longer to get fully cooked because it was a blustery day.)
- Place the cake in its pan on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges that are not covered with parchment, releasing the cake from the sides of the pan. Use the parchment sling’s handles to lift the cake out of the pan. Set the cake with the parchment paper on a wire rack and cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.
- Cut into squares and serve warm, at room temperature, or slightly chilled. You can bake this cake up to 2 days in advance. Store, covered tightly, in the refrigerator. In many cases, gluten-free baked goods are better on the second day when the flours have had more time to absorb the liquids.
- To Serve: Place a square on each serving plate. Sift powdered sugar over the top and add a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Tuck a mint sprig in the whipped cream and serve.
- Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
Create a New Tradition Today!
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