RECIPE | Pear and hazelnut cake by Nigel Slater

It’s the weekend – rejoice.  Like most, if not all of the weekday workers in the country, I look forward to my weekends with great anticipation. My reasons are, in no particular order: lie-ins, Homeland, and ample time for cooking endeavours.  Therefore multiple entries over the two days of the weekend are likely to become regular occurrences – I hope this is something my readers look forward to getting used to.

A fruit bowl can be a sorry looking sight at times. When first filled with produce straight from the shop, they are colourful and inviting corners of the kitchen with the promise of fresh snacks, tangy flavours and wholesome satisfaction. More often than not however, they look considerably past their best – flaccid, wrinkly, bruised, unloved. Time to accept their fate and turn them away towards the bin – right? Wrong. Never does a fruit bowl beckon me with such calling than when their fragrance just begins to turn to ferment – my single interpretation translating to cooking them up in a dessert.

On Saturday I was faced with such fortune – five paltry looking pears sitting in the bowl helping to ripen the last of my initially insipid garden tomatoes. And they did a good job, turning them fragrant and a fruity red after a few days. The pears were a failed attempt to eat one a day for the week as part of my 5-a-day. Plans not having gone quite accordingly, I resort to the only natural alternative. Make a cake with them.

With head cocked in contemplation, eyeing up what had been five fine beacons of seasonal produce, I recall a recipe I recently thumbed over from the November issue of delicious magazine. And from one of my most favoured cooks – Nigel Slater.

Recipe for pear and hazelnut cake by Nigel Slater

Nutty sponge meets fruit crumble for a delicious combination.

There will be enough for 8-12

  • 175g softened butter
  • 85g golden caster sugar
  • 85g light muscovado sugar
  • 80g skinned, toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 165g self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Few drops of vanilla extract

    For the pears
  • A large juicy lemon
  • 750g pears (5-6 pears)
  • 3tbsp caster sugar
  • Ground cinnamon

For the crumble

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g butter
  • 2bsp demerara sugar and a bit extra for the crust
  • A little more cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 160C / fan 140C/ gas 3 and line the base of a 21-22cm square cake tin with baking paper.

For the pears, squeeze the lemon into a small saucepan. Peel the pears, cut them into small chunks and place into the lemon juice – it wills top them browning. Bring the juice to the boil and turn the heat down to a gently simmer.  Scatter over the sugar and a liberal pinch of cinnamon. Cook with the occasional stir until the pears are translucent and tender. They should be soft enough to pierce with a skewer with little or no effort.  Try not to colour them beyond the palest gold or to let the juice boil away – you’ll want it for later.

Tip | If your pears are particularly ripe as were mine, note that they will need less cooking time before they’re the desired tenderness.

Make the cake by beating the butter and sugars in a food mixer or with an electric hand whisk until a light and pale coffee colour. This will take a good five to ten minutes, longer if done by hand with a wooden spoon – also an option. Meanwhile, grind the hazelnuts quite finely. You can do this in a food processor or with a hand blender and its snug container.

Tip | Don’t over grind the nuts or they will become oily.  Also the less fine you grind them, the more texture you’ll get in the sponge.  It’s really up to personal tastes how fine or course you want the nuts.

Break the eggs, beat them gently to just mix the white and yolks and gradually add to the mix with the beater on slow.

Tip | If the mixture begins to look like it’s curdling (common when adding eggs to the butter/sugar mix, especially if all added at once) – don’t panic. Just add a tablespoon or two of the flour and it will bring it back to the right consistency.

Add the ground hazelnuts, flour, cinnamon and a couple of drops of vanilla extract. Allow the mixer to go round a few more times on slow to fully combine all the ingredients until smooth. Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin (where bowl scrapers come into their own) and smooth it flat.

Lift the pears from their syrup with a draining spoon, reserving the juice. Place the pears on top of the cake mixture.

To make the crumble topping, blitz the flour and butter to crumbs in a food processor. Add the demerara and mix lightly. Remove the processor bowl from the stand.  Add a few drops of water and run a fork through the mixture – this will cause some of the crumbs to stick together like small pebbles.  This will make for a more interesting mixture of textures.  Scatter the crumble loosely over the pears, followed by a little more demerara and a pinch of cinnamon.

Tip | There is no necessity in having a food processor to make this crumble. The desired sand like texture can be achieved by rubbing chunks of the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Although the processor does achieve this in seconds, it does also create extra washing up. One of life’s many compromises.

Bake for about an hour and check if the sponge is done with the skewer method. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside. Bring the reserved pear and lemon juice to the boil for a couple of minutes until there is just three or four tablespoons left. Trickle it over the surface of the cake and allow to cool.

The reason this cake is so good is because it brings together two wonderful elements – sponge and fruit crumble.  The sponge is light, moist and satisfying with its buttery flavour cleanly sliced through by the tartness of the pear and citrus.  Nigel’s pebble crumble suggestion is wonderfully fitting, providing little nuggets of crunch – a welcome presence amongst sponge and cooked fruit.

The other reason this cake is good is because Matt doesn’t like cooked fruit in dessert.  This means that I get a whole slice plus extra crumble with every portion.  Seeing as I think the fruit upwards is the best part of this cake, that’s a winning situation for me.

I think an apple pie should be next on the list.

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