2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup ground hazelnuts or walnuts (or ¼ cup more all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (only if you’re using ground nuts)
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 medium pears, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch dice
½ cup moist, plump prunes, snipped into ¼-inch pieces, or ½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Light brown sugar is a prime player in this fragrant Bundt’s soft, tender texture and comforting taste. I like the combination of pear and prune, but the cake is so welcoming you can trade the prunes in for raisins or dried currants, dried pears, pieces of dried apricot or chopped nuts, and you can swap the pears for apples – the brown sugar will pull everything together. If you have time, wrap the cake well and leave it on the counter to ripen the flavors for a day before serving.
GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- to 10-inch (12-cup) Bundt pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. If your pan is not nonstick, dust the interior of the pan with flour, then tap out the excess. (If you’ve got a silicone Bundt pan, there’s no need to butter or flour it.) Don’t place the pan on a baking sheet – you want the oven’s heat to circulate through the Bundt’s inner tube.
Whisk together the flour, nuts, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately – add the flour in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients). Mix only until the ingredients are incorporated and scrape down the bowl as needed. With a rubber spatula, stir in the pears and prunes. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the spatula.
Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. (If the cake looks as if it’s browning too fast, cover the top loosely with a foil tent.) Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding, then cool to room temperature on the rack.
When you’re ready to serve, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 12 servings.
Serving: For me, brown sugar is a go-with-tea ingredient.
Storing: Not surprisingly, this is a good keeper. It will keep for about 5 days wrapped well and at room temperature – it’s really better the day after it is baked than it is on bake day – and it can be frozen for up to 2 months; defrost still wrapped.
Brown Sugar-Nut Bundt Cake: For a nuttier cake, use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and ¼ cup ground nuts – hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds. Decrease the vanilla extract to 1 ¼ teaspoons, and use the almond extract. Omit the pears and prunes and stir in 1 cup chopped toasted nuts – use the same nut as the one you ground.