The Peasant and the Pear’s New Pastry Chef Likes it Light.
Photography by Nico Oved
Pastry chef Dana Farkas could practically hide behind one of her 50-pound sacks of flour: She weighs little more than twice that. But having worked in some of the nation’s top kitchens, most recently at Oliveto, Farkas is hardly a lightweight. She recently joined Danville’s The Peasant and the Pear, where owner Rodney Worth’s crème brûleé and chocolate decadence will be tough to knock off the menu. But don’t count Farkas—and her fruit-focused desserts—out.
Q: Is there an underdog fruit we should be on the look out for, à la the brussels sprout revolution?
A: Persimmon could be like that. It’s the forgotten redheaded step-child. People think it’s just a pretty orange globe that gets squishy and thrown away.
Q: Well, what should you do with them?
A: Make a really great steamed persimmon pudding with cinnamon whipped cream. I like the crunchy ones and the supersoft ones. Try the firmer Fuyu variety in salads, or just eat them like an apple. My grandma used to eat the soft Hachiyas right over the sink.
Q: Did she inspire you to cook?
A: It was my grandma’s influence, as corny as all that sounds. I would cook with her after school. She later went blind in both eyes, so somebody had to cook. And that was me.
Q: Were you splattered with cake batter as a kid?
A: Desserts were kind of a special weekend thing. I can’t really say I was preparing napoleons. It was usually just a bowl of fruit. Whenever you think of me, think of fruit.
Q: Aside from working at The Pear, what’s your dream job?
A: I always wanted to be that little old lady living above a little bakery who made those little cakes. I would come down in my bedroom slippers, make the cinnamon rolls, and then go back to bed.
Scroll down for Farkas’ recipes.
Easily serves 12
This recipe comes from Dana Farkas, pastry chef at the Peasant and the Pear in Danville. It is adapted from her grandmother’s recipe.
* 1 3-qt. “tube” cake pan, preferably with a flat bottom and sides, not fluted edges. A bundt type pan may be used if other is not available. Do not use an angel food cake pan or a pan with a removable bottom and tube.
* A deep roasting pan that will comfortably fit the cake pan. The roasting pan should be no less than 4” deep so enough water can be added to fill the pan half-way full.
* A small rack that fits into the bottom of the roasting pan. This will allow the water to circulate under the cake pan during baking.
* A kitchen scale for weighing baking ingredients
Ingredients for pudding
4 ounces golden or dark raisins
4 ounces dried cranberries or tart dried cherries, coarsely chopped
½ cup brandy
6 ounces all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1½ cups Hachiya persimmon pulp, all seeds and skins removed, mashed fine or pureed
¾ cup whole milk
1½ tablespoons vegetable, canola, or grape seed oil
1½ tablespoons vanilla extract
12 ounces granulated sugar
5 ounces walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
The day before making pudding, combine dried fruits with brandy and cover. Prepare persimmon pulp. The next day, place oven rack as close to the center of the oven as possible, slightly lower if needed to allow for the height of the roasting pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray tube pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray, just enough to coat the surface. If bottom of pan is flat, it’s best to line it with a “ring” of parchment paper, allowing easy release of pudding. Chill sprayed pan a few minutes, then dust the inside with flour evenly, tapping out excess.
This batter is mixed by hand. In a mixing bowl, combine and blend flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. In another slightly larger bowl, stir together prepared persimmon pulp, milk, oil, and vanilla. Add sugar to the mixture and stir well.
In three additions, fold in the blended dry ingredients, mixing until a smooth batter forms and no visible dry ingredients remain. Lastly, fold in nuts and macerated dried fruits.
Pour batter into prepared pan and set on small rack inside roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with hot water to reach about one third up the side of the cake pan. Cover the roasting pan with foil, crimping the foil around the edges of the pan so no steam escapes during baking.
Bake for approximately 2½ hours. Carefully uncover the pudding and check for doneness. The pudding should be firm to the touch and dark brown in color. If it still seems sticky or looks shiny, reseal with foil and continue baking until done, checking in 15-minute increments.
Remove pan from oven, uncover pudding and let cool in a water bath for one hour. Then remove pudding, dry off bottom of pan and allow to completely cool, covered with tea towel over night.
Have desired plate or platter ready for pudding. To un-mold, place very hot water into a bowl and tube pan into it for about 30 seconds. Dry off outside of pan, and invert pudding onto plate. If pudding does not release, repeat dipping in hot water several times. Another method to release cake is, if a propane torch is available, to heat the outside of the tube pan while inverted on the plate. The pudding should release very easily. If parchment paper lined bottom of pan, be sure to remove it off of the top of the pudding.
Enjoy at room temperature, or slightly warm with lightly sweetened whipped cream, ice cream, and/or with the following brandy sauce.
Ingredients for Brandy Sauce
8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 whole eggs, mixed
½ cup good quality brandy or whiskey, if preferred
Place butter in stainless bowl. Top with powdered sugar. Set over a bain marie (double boiler) with simmering water. The butter will start to melt, at which point you should start whisking together with sugar. The mixture will become smooth and opaque.
Whisk in the mixed eggs and blend well into the butter. Let sit over simmering water 1-2 minutes to allow eggs to cook. Whisk in the brandy and again, allow to cook over the simmering water another 2 minutes. Strain sauce through a fine mesh strainer. Allow to cool, which will also let the sauce thicken. Serve the sauce warm. Cool sauce completely before refrigerating. Sauce stays well covered and refrigerated for up to a month. Reheat over bain marie, not on direct heat, or sauce will separate.
ROASTED FIGS IN HONEY AND RED WINE WITH ALMOND POLENTA CAKE
Ingredients for Roasted Figs
20–24 fresh Mission or Brown Turkey Figs (look for figs that are unblemished and soft to the touch, not squishy)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup honey, or a little more if desired (I prefer lavender honey for this dish, but other good quality honey will work, too.)
1 cup good dry red wine
Preheat the oven to 375. Rinse and gently dry the figs. Trim off just the top of the stem from each fig. Place figs in a shallow baking dish (I prefer Pyrex), standing up. With a small sharp knife, cut an “x” across the top of each fig, just deep enough to where the fig widens. Brush the tops of the figs with the melted butter. Drizzle the honey over the figs in a criss-cross manner. Gently pour the red wine through the rows of figs. Cover pan with aluminum foil. Place in center of oven and bake for approximately 18-20 minutes. Remove foil periodically and check and see if the figs are tender and wine has become more like syrup. Re-cover with the foil and continue baking if needed a few more minutes. When done, remove from oven and uncover. Figs may also be served on crostini with some Brie cheese, or with ice cream, sweetened mascarpone, or crème fraiche.
Almond Polenta Cake
Makes one 10-inch cake
* Stand Mixer, (i.e. Kitchen Aid)
* 1- 10” x 3” aluminum cake pan
* Parchment paper
Ingredients for cake
Vegetable spray for pan or melted butter
10 ounces unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 pound almond paste
2/3 cup honey
Zest of 1 lemon, minced
Zest of 2 oranges, minced
9 large eggs
4 ounces all purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2¼ ounces yellow polenta, fine grind, or medium/fine cornmeal
1 teaspoons kosher salt
Adjust oven rack to center. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly spray bottom and sides of cake pan with pan spray, or brush lightly with melted butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Place on bottom of pan. Lightly spray or brush the parchment circle and dust the interior of the pan with flour, coating sides and bottom. Tap out excess.
Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer (do not attempt with a hand mixer) combine almond paste and soft butter. Mix on medium speed until light, and almond paste is smooth. There should be no lumps. Stop the mixer a time or two to scrape bottom and sides of bowl and get any unmixed almond paste off of the paddle. Mix again. On slow speed, add in honey and zests. Scrape down again. Continue on slow speed and add eggs one at a time, blending well in between additions. Combine well and add in the dry ingredients and slowly mix just until the dry ingredients are no longer visible. Remove bowl from mixer, clean batter off paddle and add into bowl. With a rubber spatula, fold mixture well around bottom and sides of bowl. Evenly fill prepared cake pan and smooth batter on top to make level.
Set timer for 30 minutes. Check cake at that point for doneness. Continue baking until golden brown in color, perhaps up to 40-45 minutes. Cake is done when it feels firm to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the center. Remove from oven, set on a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Have two plates ready to invert cake. Gently run a thin blade around the edge of the cake. Invert cake onto one plate, peel parchment paper off, then invert it back to the second plate so that the cake is upright. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve with roasted figs, a drizzle of the wine syrup, and a dollop of sweetened cream or ice cream.