Sunday, September 11, 2011

Caramelized Pear and Cream Cheese Biscuits and the Comfort of Baking on a Fall Day...




Along with most of America this morning, I've been watching the news coverage of the 9/11 attack 10 years ago.  My heart goes out to everyone who lost a loved one and to those who gave their lives to save others, and breathes a prayer of thanks that everyone I know was spared from the tragedy.  Just a few weeks after 9/11, I boarded a plane to China, where I spent the next three years teaching English to Chinese college students.

Traveling so soon after everything that happened was a little scary, compounded by the fact that I was moving so far away from my home country during such a difficult time for America.  But in spite of the timing, learning to love and embrace another culture simply reinforced in my mind that no matter people's cultural differences and religious beliefs, most people on this earth are good, kind and eager to help a stranger in need.





One moment in particular that stands out in my mind was during a trip to Tibet in 2004, right before I left China to move back to America for good.  I became very sick from the high altitude in Tibet, and was eventually hospitalized after I developed high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid, eventually causing suffocation and death if the person does not receive oxygen.  After the 4th night of coughing through the fluid in my lungs and battling an ever-rising fever, I knew I needed to go to the hospital.

I remember leaving the hostel my friends and I stayed at that night, walking across the road, and sitting down in the middle of the road in a state of fever, confusion and weakness, tears streaming down my face.  An old Tibetan woman passing by rushed over to me and put her arm around my shoulders; speaking softly in Tibetan, she helped me get up and walk to the other side of the road.  She had no idea who I was, and we didn't even speak the same language, but I believe she would have given me the clothes off her back if she thought it would help me feel better.






Today is a day to hug your loved ones, to remember those who have suffered, to do something kind for a stranger, and to be thankful for every blessing.  And so on this early fall morning as I thought about all the blessings in my life, I baked.






Baking is a comfort to me, and I think that baking good things to eat for those in your life just makes the world a better place.  I love coming up with new variations for my go-to baking powder biscuit recipe, and this morning I created a biscuit that's somewhat like a muffin (also, I baked them in muffin tins, so they look like muffins even though it is a biscuit dough).  These biscuits have no oil or butter in them; instead, I used non-fat cream cheese in place of the butter, and some non-fat Greek yogurt adds moisture and richness to the dough.  Fresh pears, lightly sweetened and caramelized with brown sugar add sweet little pops of flavor throughout the biscuit, and a simple topping of oats and sliced almonds add crunch and texture, as well as a lovely fall look.





And on this beautiful fall morning, these breakfast biscuits were my way of telling Jamie just how happy he makes me every single day.







Caramelized Pear and Cream Cheese Biscuits (low sugar and low fat)
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon, plus a pinch, cinnamon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons non-fat cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla, or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup uncooked oats
  • 1/4 cup sliced raw almonds
In a small saucepan, cook the diced pear, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, until the pears are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, baking powder and salt.  Scatter the cream cheese over the flour and use a pastry cutter to cut the cream cheese into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg and vanilla.  Slowly add the egg and vanilla to the flour mixture, tossing with a fork to moisten.  Add the pears and toss to combine.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and water.  Pour over the flour mixture, then stir with a wooden spoon just until moistened and the dough can be gathered into a ball.  

Cover bowl with a damp paper towel and set aside for 15 minutes, or until ready to use.  Preheat the oven to 450 F and spray a muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Loosely mound the dough in 6 muffin cups.  Sprinkle each with the oats and almonds and gently press into the dough.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.  Serve warm with your favorite jam.