Let them eat pear & almond cake

When it comes to family gatherings on my Mum’s side, it seems the responsibility of cake-baker/dessert bringer has become solely mine.  This is great in some ways – it satisfies my baking urges and lets me put all those recipes I’ve been gathering into practice but it means my Grandma no longer does the baking. And boy can she bake! I’ve never seen her produce anything that wasn’t absolutely lovely (sometimes several different cakes and slices for the one occasion) and it all just has that Grandma style that I love. She likes to try different recipes too and if she thinks it is a recipe worth keeping she will say “put a big tick next to that one!”

I am happy to announce this pear and almond cake with almond crunch topping I made for Mother’s day got the Grandma Tick of Approval.  With juicy slices of sweet pear and a delicious butterscotch almond topping this is a cake that will satisfy everyone.

I also learned something. Whenever I decide to bake, I take the butter from the fridge and realise I need softened butter and mine is rock hard. When I’m really desperate to cream cold butter and sugar I put both in a stainless steel mixing bowl and into the hot oven for 10 seconds. The bowl heats up as well as the butter so while it works, there is a bit of melting and finger burning going on and it’s not ideal at all. After poking around the internet at a few different options (like pounding the butter between 2 sheets of baking paper…sounds messy right?) I found one handy hint that I like: place butter in a snaplock bag and put in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for a few minutes. It works. It’s not as even as leaving it to soften at room temperature but if you’re like me and never remember to do that, this will save you time and burnt fingers.

Here is the recipe for pear and almond cake with almond crunch topping as found on www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk

Cake Ingredients

175g softened butter

150g Golden Caster Sugar (I used regular caster sugar)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 medium eggs

220g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp grated nutmeg

140ml sour cream

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

50g ground almonds

2 firm pears, such as Comice (I used brown Bosc)

A little lemon juice

Topping Ingredients

50g butter

50g Light Muscovado Sugar (I used dark brown sugar)

2 tbsp double cream

75g flaked or slivered almonds


Line a 20cm springform tin with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4.

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with the second egg. Sift the remaining flour, a pinch of salt, bicarbonate of soda and the nutmeg together in a seperate bowl. Fold half the flour into the creamed mixture. Fold in the sour cream, zest and almonds, then the remaining flour.

Peel, core and slice the pears into eighths. Toss with lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Spread half of the cake mixture over the base of the tin (it will be quite thick ) cover with the pears (I laid mine in a pin-wheel shape), then spread the  remaining cake mixture over the top (I had some left over pear slices that I placed on the top for an extra layer). Bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the almond topping. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the sugar and cream, then stir in the almonds and remove from heat.

Remove the cake from the oven and pour the almond mixture evenly over the top (be careful as the top of the cake will be fragile). Bake for a further 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is toffee-coloured and a skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake. Try to aim right for the centre when skewering as it’s hard to tell if the cake is cooked when you’re skewering right through juicy pear slices! Remove and serve warm or cold. I served mine with vanilla ice-cream and the leftover double cream – delicious!

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Eye Chart Art

My second project using my bargain frames (as seen in my previous post) is Eye Chart Art. At the moment there is a definite trend for typography as art, as well as medical/zoological/geographical (I don’t know what the kids are calling it) stuff. You know, skeletons, specimen displays, animals, science-y things, maps, pages and images from encyclopaedias and manuals, taxidermy. Stuff. I don’t know what a collection of this stuff is called but I see it everywhere. And I like it. I’ve seen vintage eye charts used as art and last week I stumbled onto this custom eye chart maker and played around with some wording. For us I chose a Jimi Hendrix quote “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens” (that I had to slightly alter because I only could only use a limited number of characters in the eye chart maker).

I also used the idea to make a housewarming present for some dear friends who moved into a little love nest together over the weekend. Posting about it kind of spoils the fun when I give it to them but whether they look genuinely surprised or not will tell me if they really read my blog…and whether I need to rethink their description of ‘dear friends’. Hmmmm.

For them I chose the title of a well know Madness song and the date they moved in. ‘Welcome to the House of Fun’ is a tribute to what is to come as I have no doubt many a fun night will be had in their new digs. In typical maddy style, once I had taken the photo I realised that the date is meant to be 120512 not 120520. I’m eight years too early. Perhaps I’ll just hold on to this and fingers crossed they move house in 2020. Or I might just print out a correct version but for the sake of not having to do it right now, it stays.

Once I generated the eye chart I saved it as a JPEG to my desktop and opened it up in Microsoft Paint (as you can see my use of technology is very sophisticated…) and used the eraser function to remove the URL that appears below the chart. This project took a whopping 10 minutes which consisted of 8 minutes to choose the wording, 1 minute to erase the URL and 1 minute to print it out and stick it in a frame. Such little effort for such a good result. My favourite kind of project!

To save you having to dust off Microsoft Paint, here is a JPEG of the Hendrix quote – enjoy!

Faux antique bust silhouettes

Try saying that 5 times fast.

This week’s projects have been inspired by two things. A gift from Dave and some bargain picture frames.

Dave bought me a beautiful framed vintage print for the lounge room which prompted some slight redecorating. I love how one new thing can make you want to redo an entire room! We finally moved the TV from above the fireplace mantle (the fireplace is now unfortunately a pretty ugly gas heater) so we could use that as a feature in the room, as well as the bookcase. Usually the heart of a room is where the warmth comes from and so I was never happy with the mantel being just a shelf for the TV and sound system (and subsequent power cords – my pet hate!). I decided to look online for fireplace decoration inspiration and Design*Sponge did not disappoint. Check out this Sneak Peek: Best of Fireplaces or search for fireplaces in the Design*Sponge search box for more recent ones. I even Google Imaged (is that a verb yet?) ‘design sponge fireplace’ and some were so gorgeous and chic I almost cried! I did what I could with what I had at home but I have big, big plans for my fireplace. I am even trying to brainstorm a way of temporarily covering the ugly brown brick work – we rent so can’t do anything permanent.

Inspiration number two came from a local homewares/warehouse type place that had lovely thick, black frames for $5.99. While finding my fireplace inspiration I came across a few framed antique bust silhouettes and mentally added them to my ‘Current Obsessions’ list (see below for the list of things I really want and hope to acquire by stumbling across them at a garage sale or junk shop). When I found these frames I decided to remove them from the list and try to make my own faux antique silhouettes.

First I thought about making my own silhouettes from profile photos of us but I couldn’t find any profile photos of me. Then I remembered why – I don’t like my profile! So I scrapped that idea and again sought the help of my trusty friend Google Images. I couldn’t find any royalty-free images that fit the bill so I found some photos that were taken of antique silhouettes and slightly altered them. I’m not sure if I have breached copyright here seeing as the silhouettes are from the 1800’s but the website they came from is not but in any case I’m not selling them so I don’t think it is a huge issue. (If any of my lawyer friends think otherwise – call me!)

Once I altered them I printed them out with a laser printer onto textured paper and then stained then in a mixture of 1 shot of strong coffee with about a cup of water for 30 minutes. As you can see from the photos it made quite a bit of difference to the colour of the paper. I then dabbed off the excess coffee with paper towel and dried the prints with the hairdryer. This caused them to kind of shrink and wrinkle ever so slightly which, I think, added to the ‘antique’ aged look I was going for. Excuse the photos – the lighting after dark is terrible in the house. I blame the energy saving globes.

So there you have it, my very own set of ‘antique’ busts to adorn my newly decorated fireplace mantle for the hefty sum of $11.98.

I bought 4 frames and only used two for this project. Stay tuned to see what I did with the other two. Excited? Me too.

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