- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mr Emerson said a lot of very clever things during his tenure. I spent a lot of my A-Level study-leave trying to remember these things, and can't say I did a particularly good job at committing them to any kind of long term memory. What did strike a real chord was his thoughts on pears (bear with me, this gets better). I want to love them, I really do - but the window of opportunity between rock solid and slush sure does pass quickly. I have the same bugbear with avocados, but that's a story for another day.
A few weeks ago I purchased a bag of pretty green pears on a whim. Every morning I gave them a tentative squeeze, to no avail. Come Friday? My thumb and forefinger practically disappeared as they sank to the juicy, butter-soft core. I wasn't angry, just disappointed.
Here's a recipe for all you romantics, who keep going back to the fruit aisle knowing that they'll break your heart. You want 'em ripe and juicy for this little number - and they won't let you down this time, I promise. They're a bit of a superstar when paired with ginger and vanilla caramel.
100g castor sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
4 small, ripe pears
100g unsalted butter
100g castor sugar
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp powdered ginger
icing sugar, for dusting
First, preheat your oven to 180C. Next, line the bottom of a 7 inch cake tin with parchment, then grease the sides with butter. To make the caramel, weigh the butter, sugar and syrup into a small pan, then boil over a medium heat for around 7-10 minutes. Shake it occasionally to stop it sticking, but DO NOT STIR IT. Sorry to be firm, but the sugar will crystallise and you'll be left with a solid mess which is near-impossible to clean (i've been there, and it is not pretty). The caramel is done when it turns a nutty, deep golden colour. Add the vanilla paste, give a quick shake, then pour straight into the bottom of your prepared tin.
Next, peel and core the pears. Slice them as thinly and evenly as you can, then arrange on top of the caramel. I always start on the outer layer using the best looking pieces, then patch up the centre with the small end bits.
Once layered, make the cake by creaming together the butter and sugar. Crack in the eggs, beat, and once combined beat in the almonds, flour, baking powder and ginger. Whisk for a few minutes until it's pale and fluffy, then carefully spoon over the pears, being gentle so that you don't undo all your good work making them look beautiful. Use a knife to level the mixture, then bake in your preheated oven for around 25 minutes. I'm hesitant to give an exact baking time, as ovens vary hugely - the cake is down when it's golden brown, doesn't wobble when shaken gently, and a skewer or knife comes out clean.
Allow it to cool in the tin, for 10 minutes, then gently turn onto a plate. Do this with caution - remember there is hot caramel which you do not want to pour all over yourself. The paper lining at the bottom should have held the pears in place, so peel this off carefully once the cake is just warm. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.
Delicious hot or cold, and crying out for a dollop of creme fraiche. This is a rather petite little bake, but can easily be scaled up if you have a bigger tin in mind.