"You know what eating this dessert is like? It's like... taking that initial first bite of food after several days or weeks of starvation. It's at that moment you remember all that's wonderful about a meal and that you're thankful for being given it."
That statement came mere moments after my fork tines had delivered the first nibble of Oba's carrot cake tres leches to my mouth, but before the tip of my tongue had started to slowly scavenge the corners of my lips for any runaway bits. Well aware that I still had at least 20 more bites before the dessert was demolished, I was suitably impressed enough that I wanted to savor all that I could. It was more akin to the traditional Indian variation of the dessert in texture and taste — less flour, full of fine carrot threads, and moist from the three milks — than what Betty Crocker tries to pass off as cake. Sitting in its own pool of cold spiced syrup, crumbled nuts and minced carrots, and topped with (I think) whipped creme fraiche, Oba's take was as aesthetically pleasing as it was wipe-the-bowl-clean-with-your-finger scrumptious. This isn't the first time I've given them a crumb-encrusted sticky thumbs up, though. Their warm banana-cream cheese malassadas also come highly recommended by me (as well as practically everyone who works there: "Everything on the dessert menu is awesome... but the malassadas? I dream about those," one of servers once told me.)
It's not usual for me to dream about food, but I do have a tendency to do a post-nom analysis, wherein my mind will try to reconstruct how a particular dish was possibly made — from the ingredients down to the temperature it was cooked at. The work of Oba's pastry chef was commendable enough that evening that I stayed awake in bed until 1:00 trying to unravel the taste combinations present in the carrot cake. I did this not because I wanted to recreate the dish; rather, I wanted to see if I could use his ideas as a springboard for a future creation of my own. As such, I decided that this week's muffin ought to be an homage to the person who always manages to create such superlative desserts.
Pear Tres Leches Muffins with Saffron
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour * 1/2 cup granulated raw cane sugar * 1/4 cup light brown sugar * 1 teaspoons baking powder * 1/2 teaspoon baking soda * 1/4 teaspoon salt * 2 large eggs, lightly beaten * 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled * 2 ripe large pears * A good pinch of saffron * 2 tbsp water * 1 tsp of cinnamon * 1 tsp of cardamon * 1 cup sweetened condensed milk * 1 cup heavy cream * 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Butter or spray a 12 - 1/2 cup muffin pan.
In a large bowl combine the flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cardamon. Set aside. Cut pears. Put the pinch of saffron in the 2 tbsp of water and let it sit for about 5 minutes. In a separate bowl whisk together the three milks and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a medium-sized bowl combine the sliced pears, eggs, melted butter, and saffron. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined and batter is thick and chunky. (The important thing is not to over mix the batter. You do not want it smooth. Over mixing the batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.) Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins.
Bake about 20 - 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Halfway through the baking process, take a few fans of pear slices and add them to the top of the muffins. Place on a wire rack to cool for five minutes and then remove muffins from pan. When the muffins have mostly cooled, dunk them in the tres leches at least twice, with each dip spaced ten minutes apart. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve them.
It’s called Serious Business Pastries because baking is serious stuff. It’s a science and an art form, and it demands a lot of care and attention. But baking also allows for a lot of fun and whimsy, too. They’re the veritable frosting and sprinkles on top of a delicious, well-made cupcake. If you try our pastries you’ll see that we’re serious about quality and craftsmanship, but fun and funky when it comes to flavors and creativity.