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Fresh Gingerbread With Port-Poached Pears

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
8 large firm but ripe pears w/ stems
4 cup ruby port
2 cup sugar
15 1/8-thick slices peeled fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split length.
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
3/4 cup firmly packed dk brown sugar
1/3 cup unsulfured (light) molasses
1/3 cup strong brewed coffee
4 large eggs, room temp
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

FOR PEARS: Add lemon juice to large bowl of cold water. Peel pears, leaving stems intact. Use melon baller to remove core through bottom end. Add pears to bowl of water. Bring Port, sugar, ginger, cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean to boil in heavy large Dutch oven over high heat, sturring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer syrup 10 minutes. Drain pears and add to syrup. Simmer until tender, turning frequently, about 20 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pears to large container and stand upright. Boil syrup until reduced to 1 3/4 cups, about 18 minutes. Pour syrup over pears. Cover and chill. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead.)

FOR CAKE: Position reack in center of oven and preheat to 350F. Butter 9x13x2-inch pan. Dust pan with flour; tap out excess. Mix chopped ginger and 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar in small bowl. Let stand until syrup forms, stirring frequently, about 30 minutes. Mix flour, baking soda, and spices in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Add molasses, coffee and chopped ginger mixture and beat until blended (mixture may look curdled). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating after each addition until just blended. Transfer bater to prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool in pan. (Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.)

FOR CREAM: Beat whipping cream, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and ground ginger in large bowl until firm peaks form. (Can be prepared 3 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhip if necessary.) Cut gingerbread into 2 1/2 inch squares. Place 1 cake square and 1 pear on each of 8 plates. Spoon some syrup over each pear. Spoon dollop of whipped cream alongside.

Peppernut Pear Tart

8 oz plain flour
1 pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
5 oz unsalted butter
1 egg yolk, size 1
3 tablespoon very cold water
4 large ripe pears
200 gm lebkuchen biscuits *
2 oz ground hazlenuts
5 oz unsalted butter
4 1/2 oz caster sugar
2 eggs, size 1
2 tablespoon ginger wine
1 crème fraïche (optional) **

* Lebkechen Biscuits: This thick, cakelike cookie is a specialty of Nuremberg and one of the most popular in Germany. It's honey-sweetened, full of spices, citron and almondsand often topped with a hard confectioners' sugar glaze. Lebkuchen has been made for centuries and is often baked in decorative molds to shape the cookie into intricate designs.

** Crème Fraïche : This matured, thickened cream has a slighly tangy, nutty flavor and velvety rich texture. The thickness of crème fraïche can range from that of commercial sour cream to almost as solid as room-temperature margarine. In France, where crème fraïche is a specialty, the cream is unpasturized and therefore contains the bacteria necessary to thicken it naturally. In America, where all commercial cream is pasturized, the fermenting agents necessary for crème fraïche can be obtained by adding buttermilk or sour cream. A very expensive facsimile of crème fraïche is sold in some gourmet market. the expense seems frivolous, however, when it's so easy to make an equally delicious version at home. To do so, combine 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a glass container. Cover and let stand at room temperature (about 70°F) from 8 to 24 hours, or until very thick. Stir well before covering and refrigerate up to 10 days. Crème fraïche is the ideal addition for sauces or soups because it can be boiled without curdling. It's delicious spooned over fresh fruit or other desserts such as warm cobblers or puddings.

You will need a 10in tart tin, preferably 1 1/2in deep, with a removable base; some baking parchment; dried baking beans. Preheat the oevn to gas mark 5, 375°F, 190°C.
Put the flour, salt, sugar in the processor and whiz for a few seconds. Chop the butter roughly with a knife, add to the flour, and process for about 15 seconds until you have a rough, crumb-like mixture. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and water together and then add to the flour and butter. Whiz for about 30 seconds or until the pastry dough has left the sides of the bowl and is clinging in a solid mass around the central spindle. Take out the pastry and lightly mould with your hands into a flattish round, so that later it will roll out more easily to the shape of the tart tin. Wrap it in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for about 30 minutes or overnight.
Take a scrap of butter and thoroughly grease the tart tin, paying special attention to the area where the base and sides meet. Roll out your pastry to the thickness of a chamois leather (you will have some surplus). Line the tart tin, making sure you do not strtch the pastry, by starting in the middle of the tin and draping the pastry gently and easily outwards towards the corners and then up the sides. Prick the base all over with a fork and put the tin back into the fridge for another 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut a piece of baking parchment to fit inside the pastry crust. Remove the pastry lined tin from the fridge, line with the baking parchment and sprinkle some beans over the bottom. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes until the pastry has 'set' and is light golden. Remove from the oven, take out the parchment and beans, and return pastry crust to the oven for a further 3 minutes to colour the bottom. Then remove again and leave to cool, still in the tin.
Put the biscuits in a food processor and whiz until coarse crumbs. Empty and combine the crumbs and ground hazelnuts in a bowl. Now put the butter and sugar in the food processor and cream together until smooth and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a small bowl until well mixed. To prevent the 'frangipane' curdling, first add about a third of the nut and crumb mixture to the creamed butter in the food processor and whiz for a few seconds until incorporated. Carry on with the nut and crumbs, then egg, until everything is mixed in but do not over process. Finally, add the ginger wine or other liqueur.
Peel the pears and cut them in half lengthways. Core, but leave the stalks on. Then make lengthways cuts down the pears, as if to fan, leaving the base intact. Now spoon in the frangipane mixture to cover the pastry case and place the pears on top with the stalks pointing towards the middle. Bake for 25 minutes at gas mark 3, 325°F, 170°C until golden brown and the mixture only just set - it's better if the mixture is still a little soft in the centre as it add a creamy texture to the finished tart. This is better eaten just warm rather than piping hot. Serve either plain or with a good dollop of crème fraïche.
Yield: 6 servings

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