Strange as this sounds, I always wanted a grandma. Not just any grandma though. I wanted a southern grandma. Someone who would call me sugar, drink copious amounts of sweet tea with the occasional mint julep on Sundays, fry up a mean chicken, and teach me how to bake all those sweet treats my mom wouldn’t allow in my kitchen.
But unfortunately, I wasn’t given the gift of a grandma, let alone a southern one as both my parent’s lost their mothers before I was old enough to tell the difference between my nose and finger. Sometimes, I imagine what my life would’ve been like with a grandmother. All those stories waiting to be told, pictures to be shown, memories to be reminisced. She’d let me stay up way too late, buy me caramels from the local candy shop, and show me the secret techniques behind making the best bread and pies.
It breaks my heart a little to think of what I missed out on, but that’s the card we are dealt with, right? When I browsed through Southern Cakes I felt like I had discovered the next best thing to my grandma-envy. The way Nancie McDermott writes, you feel as if you are in the kitchen with her, watching her every step in awe.
There were so many recipes I wanted to try, but since I lacked the fund to buy the book at my bookstore and didn’t want to shoplift the damn thing, I put it on my request tab at the library (yes, I am still putting things on hold there despite my still-waiting 10 books). But I found this recipe for a pear bread so simple and rich on Leite’s Culinaria and knew I had to make it. I had a plethora of pears left over from farmer’s markets past and put them to good use with this recipe.
First of all, can I just say that the name “Cornelia Walker Bailey” should go down as one of the best names in history because it just evokes that image of a southern belle who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and yet has the kind manners that would charm the pants off of any man. I’m picturing a modern day Scarlett O’Hara. She’s a toned down, less caricature-y version of Paula Deen, who seems just a wee bit off her rocker sometimes.
I would like to meet this Cornelia Walker Bailey of Sapelo Island and share some lethal cocktails with her because this bread made my day. The cinnamon speckled dough cooks up beautifully with the pieces of pears popping through. The brown sugar keeps the dough moist and the nuts give it a hearty bite. The recipe is failproof. Literally, babies could make this thing and yet it manages to blow the roof off of everyone’s mouth. If you don’t have pears, you could probably use another a stone fruit instead. I think Cornelia and I must meet sometime soon and who knows, maybe I can adopt her in to my family. It could be like a grandma-exchange program…
And while you are in this southern kitchen mindset, you should crank up the new Jenny Lewis cd, “Acid Tongue”. Acoustic-sounding, soulful, and honest, this cd will be in constant rotation in my house. I have a serious girl crush on Jenny Lewis. Between her and Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself…
Cornelia Walker Bailey’s Pear Bread
from Southern Cakes
For the bread:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used almonds)
3/4 cup butter, softened, or 3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar ( I used 1 1/2)
2 cups peeled and finely grated ripe but firm pears
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used almond)
For the glaze:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch or flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the bread:
Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and lightly grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.
Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the flour mixture and combine it in a small bowl with the chopped walnuts, stirring and tossing to coat the nuts with the flour.
In a medium bowl, combine the butter or oil, eggs, sugar, grated pear, nuts, and vanilla, and stir to mix everything well. Scrape the pear mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour disappears and the batter is evenly moistened.
Quickly scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake at 350°F (175°C) for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the bread is handsomely browned and firm on top and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack or folded kitchen towel for about 10 minutes. Then turn it out onto a plate or a wire rack to cool completely, top side up. Serve as is, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, or ice with a simple frosting, such as Buttermilk Glaze.
Make the glaze:
In a medium saucepan combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter, cornstarch, and baking soda. Bring to a gentle boil. Remove at once, stir well, and cool to room temperature. Add the vanilla and then set the glaze aside until the cake is done. Spoon the Buttermilk Glaze over the warm cake and cool completely.