Food & Wine's Dana Cowin brings braised chicken to THE Dish

When she was just 8 years old, Dana Cowin would sit in the park, writing poems in her diary, so it seemed natural that she would one day become a writer. What wasn't so obvious was that a girl who grew up in a totally non-foodie family would one day become editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine, guiding the brand for over 20 years.

In 2012, she was an inductee into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who In Food & Beverage In America, but she held a deep, dark secret: She couldn't cook!

Determined to learn, she turned to culinary experts like Eric Ripert, Mario Batali and David Chang. Now she's out with a new cookbook, "Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes."

From that book - with some tips from expert chefs - are the recipes for braised chicken, carrot soup, baked ziti, beet, plum and ginger salad sweet potato, coconut and five-spice gratin, upside-down cake and, to drink, a French 75.

Braised Chicken with Leeks, Mushrooms & Peas

When I'm cooking at home, I'm usually the only one in the kitchen, which means I'm usually the only one intimately aware of my mistakes. This is both good (it's less embarrassing)and bad (it means I don't have a teacher helping me on my journey as a cook). But the day I made a chicken in Riesling inspired by a recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Top Chef winner Kristen Kish was at my side cheering me along, coaching me as I faltered. (She was also chopping and sautéing butternut squash, yellow squash and eggplant for a pasta sauce and teaching my kids how to roll sheets of dough through the pasta machine. The ability of chefs to multitask always astonishes me.) I was taking the chicken out of the pan when she scooted over and put the offending too-pale pieces back on the heat. She not only got a lot more color on the skin, but she seared the edges to be sure they were browned too. With her right there, I finally understood how brown the chicken needed to be--as well as the problem with shortcuts. As I all but begged to move the meal along, she insisted we take the necessary time to caramelize the skin: she wanted to render the fat to avoid a greasy sauce and to add flavor. Kristen's patience in cooking was a reminder that in the kitchen, as in life, to get the best results, you need to do the work--and do it right.

ACTIVE TIME: 1 HOUR

TOTAL TIME: 1 1⁄2 HOURS

SERVES 4

1⁄4 cup grapeseed oil, divided

31⁄2 pounds bone-in chicken parts (wings, thighs, legs and/or halved breasts), trimmed of

excess skin and patted dry with paper towels

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced and thoroughly washed (about 1 heaping cup)

1 cup Riesling

1⁄2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

1⁄3 cup heavy cream

2 cups frozen peas

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a very large enameled cast-iron casserole over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season half of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper and add it to the casserole. Cook, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, until well browned all over, 15 to 20 minutes; turn the heat down to medium if the brown bits in the pan are getting too dark. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Season the remaining chicken with salt and pepper and repeat the browning with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Transfer the second batch of chicken to the plate and set aside.

2. Discard all but a very thin layer of fat from the casserole. Add the leeks to the pot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the Riesling and chicken stock, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the casserole.

3. Turn the heat down to low and return all of the chicken to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Cover the casserole and gently simmer the chicken until it's cooked through, about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and let cook until it just starts to turn brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and browned all over, about 10 minutes.

5. Transfer the mushrooms to the casserole with the chicken. Add the cream and peas, stir everything together and cook just until the peas are hot and bright green, about 3 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

SERVE WITH Rice or egg noodles.

Chef tips from Kristen Kish:

ON COOKING OIL: Grapeseed oil has a much higher smoking point than olive oil and is virtually flavorless. It will allow you to get the pot hot enough to render out the fat from the chicken and to brown the skin without burning it.

ON COLOR: Look for a beautiful even brown: think of a perfectly toasted hazelnut.

ON CHECKING FOR DONENESS: It takes practice to tell when chicken is cooked through.

Anything is better than stabbing it. Use your fingers; it should feel firm to the touch. An instant-read thermometer also works great; just make sure it's accurate. Another option is a cake tester (that stainless steel pick with a blue tab)--insert it into the thigh and then touch it; if it's hot, the chicken is cooked all the way through.

MAKE AHEAD The braised chicken (before adding the mushrooms and peas) can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat over medium-low heat before proceeding.

Creamy Roasted Carrot Soup with Pine Nut + Caper Topping

One of my favorite soups is carrot ginger, but until recently, it was definitely not one of my favorite soups to make. I'd screwed it up too many times. The first time I tried a recipe, I simmered the carrots in broth, then poured the hot liquid and vegetables into the blender. I put the top on and whirred. Within seconds, the orange soup had exploded out of the top and splattered all over the walls, the stove and my sweater. When I consulted Jenn Louis of Lincoln in Portland, Oregon, she had this recommendation: Use an immersion blender or, if using a regular blender, fill it only halfway, take the plug out of the lid and cover the hole with a towel so some of the steam can escape. The softened vegetables will puree to a gorgeous soupy consistency, with no geyser!

Active Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 ½ hours

Serves 8

FOR THE CARROTS

21⁄2 pounds carrots, scrubbed and sliced 1⁄4 inch thick (about 8 cups)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

FOR THE PINE NUT + CAPER TOPPING

1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1⁄2 cup roughly chopped pine nuts

2 small garlic cloves, chopped

3 tablespoons capers, dried well on paper towels

1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

Kosher salt

TO FINISH THE SOUP

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced (about 11⁄2 cups)

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. For the carrots, preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put the carrots in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil and a large pinch of salt. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, spread them out and roast, stirring occasionally until tender and very browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the pine nuts and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Add the capers and cook for another 20 seconds or so, until crisp.

4. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor, add the parsley and salt to taste and pulse to make a not-too-smooth puree. Set aside.

5. To finish the soup, heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat until

shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and just barely beginning to take on color, about 5 minutes.

6. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Add the roasted carrots, take the pot off the stove and place it on a heatproof surface.

7. Using an immersion blender, carefully puree the soup until completely smooth. Alternatively, transfer the soup, in batches, to a conventional blender, filling it no more than halfway. Remove the plug from the lid, to vent the blender, cover the top tightly with a kitchen towel and puree.

Add water to the soup if desired for a thinner consistency. Season again to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with the caper topping and serve.

Note: The soup can also be made by cooking the carrots in the onion and stock mixture until they're soft, for 20 to 30 minutes, then pureeing the soup. While you won't get the caramelized flavor of the roasted carrots, you will still have a great bowl of soup.

The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Chef Tips from Jenn Louis:

ON ACHIEVING THE PERFECT CONSISTENCY

It is easier to thin a thick soup than to thicken a thin soup. If adding liquid to thin the soup, start with a small amount, then add more if desired.

ON GETTING MORE FLAVOR FROM CARROTS

Roasting vegetables rather than simmering them will concentrate their flavor.

ON CHECKING ROASTED VEGETABLES FOR DONENESS

When roasting the vegetables, make sure they're soft enough that they will be able to fully

puree, without leaving any firm chunks. To test them for tenderness, pierce them with a skewer.

CHEF VARIATION

To make the soup even creamier without using cream, add more olive oil, fresh bread crumbs or nuts when you puree it.

Baked Ziti Arrabbiata

The last time I made baked ziti arrabbiata, based on one from the maestro of Italian cooking, Mario Batali, I started cooking early in the afternoon, giving myself ample time to "fail and fix" the dish if necessary. When I made the béchamel, I thought it was too thin, so I decided to reduce it--but it wouldn't reduce. I assumed my problem was using skim milk (the only milk I had in the house), but my diagnosis was incorrect, as I found out when I told the story to the Food & Wine test kitchen crew. They explained that béchamel never, ever gets reduced. If you want a thicker béchamel, you add more flour at the start. I realized I had to stop using my ill-informed instincts to solve a problem. Mistakes aside, this is my absolute favorite baked pasta, particularly when I'm cooking for a crowd. Mario told me it was one of his favorites, too, so I got a little more advice from him on perfecting it.

Active Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Serves 6 to 8

1⁄4 cup olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing

1 garlic clove, minced

11⁄2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, divided

One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, smooshed with your hands, juices reserved

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk, warmed

Freshly grated nutmeg

11⁄2 pounds ziti

1⁄2 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 cup coarse bread crumbs

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering.

Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, just a minute or so. Add the tomatoes, with their juices, and a very large pinch of salt, turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heatand simmer the sauce until just slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until a smooth paste the palest shade of brown forms, about 2 minutes. While whisking continuously, slowly pour in the milk. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook, stirring, until it is nice and thick, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and season the béchamel to taste with salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

4. Fill your largest pot with water, bring it to a boil and season liberally with salt. (You might need to cook the pasta in 2 batches, depending on the size of your pot.) Add the ziti and cook it 3 minutes short of the package instructions--you don't want it to cook all the way through, or it will overcook when you bake it. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large bowl.

5. Add the reserved tomato sauce, the béchamel, mozzarella and 3⁄4 cup of the Parmesan to the ziti and stir well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and scatter the remaining 1⁄4 cup Parmesan over the top.

6. Toss the bread crumbs with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and

season with salt. Scatter the bread crumbs over the ziti, then sprinkle with the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

7. Bake the pasta until it is bubbling and the top is browned, about 15 minutes. Let the pasta rest for 10 minutes before serving.

MAKE AHEAD

The dish can be assembled ahead, covered with plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Add an extra 5 to 10 minutes baking time to compensate. You can also bake it, cool it and refrigerate it for up to 1 week, or freeze it for up to 1 month. To reheat the pasta, thaw to room temperature, cover with foil and bake in a 325°F oven until hot all the way through (test with a paring knife or metal skewer).

Chef Tips from Mario Batali

ON HOW MUCH WATER TO USE FOR COOKING PASTA

As much as possible. Imagine that you're dancing and want to be expressive, you need room.

The pasta needs room to dance, too. If you're cooking less than 2 pounds of pasta, 8 quarts of water is fine. But you don't need to measure--just use your biggest pot.

ON PRECOOKING PASTA BEFORE BAKING

The package tells you exactly how long to cook. For baked pasta, cook it 3 minutes less than what's called for; it'll be super al dente. Drain it; don't ever rinse it.

ON THE BENEFITS OF BÉCHAMEL

When you bake stuff with béchamel, it stays moist and rich. You might ask, "Why not just add cheese?" Cheese breaks! Ricotta in the right hands tends to look wrong. Béchamel, even in the wrong hands, looks right.

ON BÉCHAMEL RATIOS

For a light béchamel use a ratio of 1 tablespoon butter to 1 tablespoon flour to 1 cup milk.

ON MAKING BÉCHAMEL

Your béchamel will go faster if your milk is warm (you can use the microwave), but don't worry if it's cold. Just take your time! If you add too much milk, just mix some cold butter with flour (this is called beurre manié) and whisk it in pinch by pinch until the béchamel thickens. If it starts to boil over, whisk it.

ON OTHER USES FOR BÉCHAMEL

Allow it to cool so it gets firmer, then add carbonara ingredients (pancetta, Parmigiano-

Reggiano, eggs, black pepper), to make a ravioli filling. Cook the ravioli and toss with butter.

All of your pasta fillings will be twice as good if there's some béchamel in them--they will

ooze. Béchamel is also great for a croque madame.

ON NUTMEG

Nutmeg adds exotic flavor to the béchamel; it takes it to another level.

ON USING CANNED TOMATOES

Always use whole tomatoes because then you are in control of the product and know exactly what quality you're getting. Usually canned diced tomatoes are parts of broken whole tomatoes and crushed ones are a mix of all of the leftovers. Crush the tomatoes for the sauce with your hands. The pieces should be the size of your thumb-- pieces that are too big don't let you get a bite along with other stuff. Everything should be in harmony.

ON SAUCING BAKED PASTA

The most important thing about a pasta dish is the pasta. Dress it like a salad. You don't want to lose the noodles--don't blanket them with cheese.

ON BREAD CRUMBS

Cut slices of day-old bread and pulse them in a food processor. For this, I like what we call "fat boy" crumbs. Save finer ones for something like a Milanese.

ON TOPPINGS

Sprinkle the Parmesan on top first, before the bread crumbs, so the cheese won't burn. A drizzle of olive oil will help make the crumbs nice and brown. And sprinkle crushed red pepper only on half so if some friends don't want it spicy, they won't go hungry.

ON OVERCOOKED BAKED PASTA

If it's overdone, just cut the whole thing into pieces, bread them and fry them!

Beet, Tart Plum and Ginger Salad

If you wrap beets in aluminum foil to roast them, how are you supposed to tell when they're done? That was my question when I pulled back the foil swaddling some gorgeous beets and realized that I had seriously overcooked them. They were burn victims, with splotches of brown.

The answer is simple, said Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose recipe provided the basis for this beet and plum salad: just pierce the foil with a thin knife to check the beets (and then pull some of the foil over to cover the tiny hole), and take them out when the flesh is tender. I serve the beets warm with plums of the same color and a light, subtle ginger dressing.

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Serves 8

4 large red or yellow beets (about 3 pounds), scrubbed and trimmed

1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or more to taste

1 tablespoon grated (preferably on a Microplane) peeled ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

2 red or yellow plums (the same color as the beets), pitted and sliced minto half-moons (about 2 cups)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Put the beets in the center of a large piece of foil on a baking sheet, drizzle a tablespoon of water on the beets and wrap them in the foil, forming a tight package. Roast the beets until a paring knife can be inserted into a beet through the foil without any resistance, 1 to 11⁄2 hours (start checking after 45 minutes). Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool slightly. Unwrap.

3. When the beets are just cool enough to handle, use a paper towel to rub off their skins. Trim the stem and root ends. Transfer the beets to a cutting board covered with a piece of parchment paper (to prevent it from staining) and cut them into wedges that are the same size as the plums (see Note). To prevent your hands from getting stained with beet juice, use a fork in one hand to hold the beets and slice with the other hand.

4. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, ginger and salt in a large bowl. Using the parchment paper to help you, transfer the warm beets to the bowl and toss gently to coat. Season with more vinegar or salt if needed.

5. Transfer the beets to a platter and scatter the plums and scallions on top. Give the salad one final sprinkle of salt and serve immediately.

Chef tips from Jean-Georges Vongerichten:

ON CUTTING BEETS

Cover your cutting board with parchment paper to prevent it from getting stained. Once the beets are chopped, you can just pick up the parchment and slide them into the bowl without staining your hands.

ON DRESSING THE BEETS

Dress the beets while they're warm. As with potato salad, they will absorb so much more flavor.

Once dressed, the salad can sit for a while, but only at room temperature--not in the refrigerator; the refrigerator changes the flavor too much. You can serve the salad warm or at room temperature.

ON DRESSING THE PLUMS

The plums will not hold up in the dressing for longer than about an hour.

ON OTHER WAYS TO USE BEETS

Juice them! Add soda water to the juice to serve as a refreshing drink. Or reduce the juice to a syrup, whisk in olive oil and season with salt. Use as a sauce or a dressing.

ON USING BEET GREENS

Always keep the beet greens. You can boil them until they're tender and use them in a ravioli filling. Or, for a side dish, chop the greens, blanch them and dress them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve with ricotta.

ON USING GINGER PEELS

I peel ginger using a paring knife. Then I dry the peels low and slow in the oven, pulverize them with salt and sugar and use the mixture to rim the glass for a ginger margarita!

ON THE ELEMENTS OF A PERFECT DISH

It should have sweetness, spiciness, crunch and acidity. Food has to pop, and the second bite has to be as exciting as the first.

ON A COOKING SHORTCUT

You can also boil the beets in salted water, and leave some of the stems on when you cut them--the stems will flavor the cooking water. This method is faster than roasting.

Sweet Potato, Coconut & Five-Spice Gratin

For Christmas one year, I elected to make a special meal, overruling a long-held family tradition of going out for Chinese food. The centerpiece was a standing rib roast, my single favorite cut of meat. Since that was quite conventional, I wanted to balance it with a more zingy side dish, which is how I landed on this Asian-spiced sweet potato gratin.

Though the potatoes can be easily sliced with a mandolin, I thought better of it. Chef David

Chang has told me that he's seen lots of mandolin accidents in restaurant kitchens, so that seemed as good a reason as any not to use one on Christmas Day (that said, if you're fearless or accomplished, go right ahead). I sliced the sweet potatoes as evenly as I could, then poured the coconut milk with the five-spice powder over the potatoes and baked the gratin. It looked gorgeous when I presented it at the table, but it tasted as if someone had dumped the spice drawer into the gratin. (On a positive note, my mother, whose taste buds were dulled by a cold, thought it was terrific.) In order to avoid such a problem again, I asked for advice from chef Floyd Cardoz, whose food I loved at the Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla and also at North End Grill. His solution? Taste the coconut milk and spice mixture as you go and stop when it seems just right. I've adjusted the recipe here to have the proper amount of the pungent five-spice powder.

ACTIVE TIME: 20 MINUTES

TOTAL TIME: 1 ½ HOURS

SERVES 8

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

One 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk

½ cup heavy cream

¾ teaspoon five-spice powder

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt

2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 medium), peeled

¾ cup panko bread crumbs

¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush a 3-quart (2-inch-deep) or 9-by-13-inch baking dish with half of the butter. Set aside.

2. Whisk together the coconut milk, heavy cream, five-spice powder, cayenne and 1 ½ teaspoons salt in a medium bowl.

3. Using a very sharp knife, thinly slice the sweet potatoes into rounds about 1/8 inch thick.

Arrange half of the sliced sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish in even layers. Pour half of the coconut milk mixture over the sweet potatoes. Repeat with the remaining potatoes and coconut milk mixture.

4. Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake the gratin until the sweet potatoes are nearly tender, about 45 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the panko, coconut, the remaining butter and a pinch of salt to form coarse crumbs.

6. Remove the gratin from the oven and sprinkle the panko mixture evenly on top. Return it to the oven and bake until the top is golden brown, the sweet potatoes are completely cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes, then serve.

WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?

ANOTHER RECIPE IDEA FROM FLOYD CARDOZ

Try making the gratin with a paste instead of a spice blend: red curry paste, green curry paste, tandoori paste or vindaloo paste.

Chef tips from Floyd Cardoz

ON SEASONING

To avoid ruining an entire gratin by adding too much seasoning, add the five-spice powder to the coconut milk mixture a little at a time and taste as you go. If you add too much, the only way out is to make some more sauce with no spice and marry the two.

ON CHECKING FOR DONENESS

Use a knife to check the consistency of the sweet potatoes while they're baking.

ON ENSURING EVEN COOKING

If you've prepared your gratin in advance and chilled it, bring it to room temperature before you put it in the oven.

ON HOW TO IMPROVE DRY SWEET POTATOES

The older the root vegetable, the less moisture it has. If you notice that your sweet potatoes are drier than normal when you slice them, let them sit in the coconut milk mixture for 30 minutes before baking. If they absorb most of the liquid, add a splash more.

ON FIXING A TOO-WET GRATIN

In the event you don't have enough vegetables or add too much liquid (if it's sloshing around the dish or there is too much space between the vegetables), simply pour a bit out.

Pear & Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake

Making caramel--heating water and sugar until you have a golden amber syrup--is a fundamental element of many desserts that I love, none of which I'm predisposed to replicate. I have made mistakes over and over again when I have tried to tackle caramel: I've overcooked it, I've undercooked it and I've ended up with gritty crystallized cooked sugar. Grace Parisi, Food & Wine's longtime recipe goddess, solved the problem with a brilliant shortcut in her recipe for an upside-down apple cake. She got the flavor without actually making caramel by laying the fruit on top of a brown sugar and butter mixture; then she poured over the simple batter. I've adapted her method here with pears instead of apples. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to work around it.

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes + cooling

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1⁄2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for the pan

FOR THE PEARS

4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1⁄2 cup packed dark brown sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

2 ripe but firm pears, such as Bosc or Bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges (about 1⁄3

inch thick)

FOR THE CAKE

2 large eggs

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1⁄3 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

12 tablespoons (11⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour

FOR THE GLAZE

1⁄4 cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon whole milk

1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with the 1⁄2 tablespoon butter and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

2. For the pears, using a rubber spatula, mash the butter with the dark brown sugar and salt in a large bowl until combined. Using your fingers, spread the mixture evenly in the prepared cake pan. Arrange the pear wedges in the pan in concentric circles (filling in any gaps as necessary with smaller pear wedges).

3. For the cake, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, milk and extracts in the bowl you used for the butter mixture; whisk in the melted butter. Whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl, then whisk into the wet ingredients until the batter is just smooth. Scrape the batter over the pears and spread it in an even layer, without disturbing the pears.

4. Bake the cake until it is golden and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack for 30 minutes.

5. Run a dinner knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a serving plate over the pan, carefully invert the cake onto the plate and remove the pan. Peel off the parchment paper. Let the cake cool completely.

6. For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, milk and almond extract in a small bowl.

7. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake. Cut into wedges and serve.

SERVE WITH

Crème fraîche.

MAKE AHEAD

The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

French 75

1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice and Simple Syrup and shake well. Strain into a chilled flute and stir in the Champagne. Ice1 ounce gin1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice1/2 ounce Simple Syrup4 ounces chilled brut Champagne