Fall is just around the corner, the whispers of it are here already -- I'm cooking for this special time of year, as if twirling on the oven and thin slices of ripening pears will bring it on a little faster. A girl can dream! Many Septembers ago, we moved into a little apartment in Portland, Oregon. That first month was like an old super 8 film playing before me. The lollypop trees of bright red and orange, blaringly blue sky and countryside was romantic in a way I'd never experienced. And the pears, oh the pears . . .

Dave and I would drive out to Hood river area, to the "Fruit Loop" (yes, this is actually what it was called -- a connected little road of fruit farms!), and gorge ourselves on apples and pears (pies and milkshakes too) almost every weekend those early days in Portland. We couldn't get over the rolling hills, snow-peaked mountains in the background and wholesomeness of it all. We'd come back with crate loads, full bellies, a nature-daze and I'd set many little recipes in motion.

I assembled this cake last weekend to take me back to those crisp eager days of early Portland excitement, when the promise of that city felt overflowing and new. It got me all nostalgic and then some. I got pretty sentimental tearing up on memory lane. We've really grown up since 2006 -- life is twisty and curvy and we loved it there, and now love it here in Santa Barbara.

But back to this dessert -- it's more of a cake, but cooked in a tart pan -- I played a surface area game with the goal of hitting each bite with a good amount of the honeyed sweet fruit. The results are tender, and Autumnal, with a little hit of brandy to wash it all down. A slice of this beauty is perfectly accompanied by a scoop of salted caramel gelato, which I happened to find in a panic at the drug store when I realized the last of the vanilla was gone.

Isn't it grand to time and place travel through just a nibble and a memory? Cheaper than a plane ticket and impossible to reverse the clock . . . I'll take it.

Pear Almond Brandy Cake
adapted from Aran's recipe for Apple, Hazelnut and Oat Cake
serves 8-10

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour
2 tablespoons wheat germ, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing the pan
1 tablespoon brandy
1 vanilla bean
4-5 pears, cored, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375°, lightly brush a 12-inch tart pan with olive oil. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 tablespoon of the wheat germ.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, sour cream, olive oil, brandy and contents of vanilla bean together until combined. Fold the wet mixture into the dry, stirring until just uniform. Pour the cake batter into the pan, spreading it evenly. Arrange pear slices evenly over the top of the cake batter, patting them slightly into batter. Scatter sliced almonds and 1 tablespoon of remaining wheat germ across the surface.

Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through bake time. Allow to cool in pan for a few minutes, then invert onto cooling rack until all the way cool. Serve with ice cream and extra brandy.


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