Some of my earliest cooking memories involve my grandmother's kitchen in the French countryside. I would be standing on a step stool, dutifully pouring and stirring as instructed, while a breeze came through the open window. A roast would typically be simmering on the stove or in the oven for dinner. Apples and pears from the orchard were piled in a bowl on the counter. My grandfather would be reading Le Figaro in the living room and my sister playing with toys in the attic.
A few weeks ago, while back for a too-short visit, my mother and I sat at that same kitchen table and talked about "the good old days" over an evening cup of tea. I was going through my grandmother's recipe collection - handwritten or cut from magazines and pasted onto color-coded index cards - reminiscing about the memories each dish evoked in both of us, when I came across this one. I made it when back in my own kitchen in Brooklyn, using Hudson Valley pears and serving it after beef stew to friends who came over on a crisp fall Sunday afternoon. It's simple, it doesn't even call for vanilla in the cake batter, but the sweet caramel, the tender pears, and the just-moist-enough cake somehow work that magic that only some combination of France, New York, and fall manage to evoke.
Note: I used cake flour made by following these proportions, which I found in the instructions for Molly Yeh's funfetti cake, also on Food52: http://www.pastryaffair.com/blog/2012/1/10/tuesday-tip-how-to-make-cake-flour.html —CamsKitchen
flour (I used cake flour - see note above)
cubed sugar (about 25-50 depending on size. I used about 50 mini-cubes from Dominos)