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

Method

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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I’m a lumberjack and I’m a cake

That’s how the Monty Python song was meant to go!

It’s still only Autumn in these parts but the chill has already set in. Rhubarb is everywhere and for me, it’s always one of the more enjoyable signs that the cold winter months are upon us.

Winter is the time for hearty meals of stews and roasts and good old-fashioned desserts. On Sunday we had family over for dinner and I made lemon and dill seafood pies (of which we ate before I remembered to take a photo so they will not be featured in this blog!) and an apple and rhubarb lumberjack cake. Lumberjack cake is traditionally made with apples and dates and is delicious just like that but there isn’t much that can’t be improved by the tangy sweetness of rhubarb.

This recipe was adapted from an article in The Age newspaper and has the tick of approval from my Quality Assurance Team (aka the people in my office).

I doubled this recipe (but still only used 2 apples) and got one 18cm round cake, 6 muffin-tin sized cakes and 12 cupcake sized cakes, although I wouldn’t recommend this cake for cupcakes. It is meant to be moist and dense and there is just not enough volume in a cupcake to get that inner moisture. Mine were a little too dry. I also increased the amount of coconut as I found the 60g in the original recipe wasn’t enough. If there are any leftovers I think it could be made into little biscuit shapes and baked on its own. Yum!

Cake Ingredients

125g butter, plus extra for greasing cake tin

2 medium Granny Smith apples

2 stalks of rhubarb

185g dates

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 cup boiling water + ¼ cup

1 cup castor sugar + 1tbsp

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla essence

1½ cups plain flour

½ tsp salt

Topping Ingredients

½ cup brown sugar

60g butter

⅓ cup milk

100g shredded coconut

Method

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter and line an 18cm round cake tin allowing an extra 5cm of baking paper above the height of the tin. This will ensure the coconut topping does not run down the sides when cooking. Wash rhubarb well and slice into ½ cm slices. Put in a small saucepan over medium heat with 1tbsp of castor sugar and ¼ cup boiling water, stir and cook until just stewed (about 4-5 minutes). Strain and discard liquid. Peel, core and cut the apples into small pieces. Chop the dates and mix with the apples and bicarb soda. Add rhubarb and mix. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the top and leave to cool until lukewarm.

Cream the butter and remaining castor sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Sift the flour and salt into a separate bowl.

Alternating between the two, add flour and apple mix to the creamed mixture. Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until cooked when tested with a skewer.

For the topping, mix the sugar with the butter, milk and coconut in a small saucepan over a low heat until the better is melted and everything is combined. Spread over the cooked cake.

Return the cake to the oven and bake for another 15 min until topping is golden and crunchy.

Allow to cool before removing from tin.

While it’s not the prettiest cake, what it lacks in good looks it makes up for it extreme yumminess!

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A trifle over the top

I am making an effort to be more festive this year. The last few years I have bah-humbugged my way through the holidays only to suffer a longing for tinsel, weird Christmas lolly mixes and Kenny G’s Christmas Album once the event was all over. Dave and I have put up the tree, dusted off the iTunes Christmas carol playlist and I have been secretly sewing wonky stockings to fill with Christmas cheer. My plan was to sneak into the lounge on Christmas Eve to hang stockings on the fireplace and surprise Dave in the morning. Yesterday we were shopping and he picked up a Christmas stocking and told me he had a plan to sneak into the lounge on Christmas Eve to hang stockings on the fireplace and surprise me in the morning. I had to confess my plan then too, in case we both tried to sneak into the lounge room on Christmas Eve and someone ended up knocking the other one out with a frying pan, having mistaken them for an intruder.

My friends and I had a Christmas BBQ lunch on Sunday and I was allocated the task of bringing “a yummy dessert”. Immediately I began fantasising about Heston Blumenthal-inspired earth-shattering desserts with edible gold dust, whispers of delicate spun sugar and more scientific elements than an episode of Myth Busters. It’s quite typical of me to get carried away. Like when I decided to make about 8 different kinds of delicate little sweets for Christmas goody bags a few years ago, only to decide after the second sweet that I detested Christmas and everything it stood for. Delicate little sweets should be made by someone delicate and sweet, not someone clumsy and impatient with no sugar thermometer and a rather short fuse. What’s also typical of me is that while the resulting item may be edible, even quite good, rarely is it the thing of my fantasy and therefore I hate it and sulk and apologise to the recipient of my food for the monstrosity that I have bestowed upon them.

So this time I settled on a simple trifle. Only I wanted it to be spectacular.

Having never made and rarely eaten trifle and with no real recipe I embarked on my journey with visions of shimmering jellied cubes and delicate sponge layers and the ensuing ‘oooohhs’ and ‘aahhhs’ from my friends as I presented my dessert.

And I was triumphant. I was actually happy with the result and it actually looked like it did in my fantasy. I was going to make my own sponge but I’ve never made one before so I bought an unfilled sponge from the supermarket. I felt like I was cheating but I didn’t want to risk it. My Dad has attempted sponge cake twice in his life and on both occasions his sponges never rose to the occasion and they became known as the “Flattie Patties”. Bad sponge caking may be hereditary so I took the safe option, though I made up for it by making my own jelly and custard from scratch.

The trifle, in all its glory, had the following layers from bottom to top

Morello cherry jelly
Whipped cream
Sponge cake with black cherry jam
Vanilla custard
Morello cherries with cherry sauce
Sponge cake with black cherry jam
Whipped cream
Turkish delight martini jelly

It tasted good. Really good. And Dave’s observation that it was rich but still light is, I think, a winning combination for a dessert. I was also quite proud of the fact that it had an ‘overnight’ element (the jelly). After my post about not making recipes that require any overnight steps I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone. Go me!

I also discovered some very handy hints:

  1. There is such a wonder in existence called microwave custard. I had no idea until I decided I needed custard about 30 minutes before we had to leave for the BBQ. Whisk 2 egg yolks with two tbsp of cornflour and a little milk to make a paste. Microwave 2 cups of milk and 2 tbsp of castor sugar in the microwave until it boils (it must boil to work). Quickly whisk into the egg yolk paste and add vanilla extract to taste. Voila – delicious custard in 5 minutes.
  2. Dental floss is the best thing for cutting sponge cake and jelly. I split the sponge in 2 and cubed the jelly with floss, holding one end in each hand and dragging it through the cake/jelly. I had great results and apparently it works well for cheese too.
  3. After a few glasses of vino, no one really cares that you didn’t make your own sponge.

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