First, the idea. Like most things in this world, the start is small. The seed could be anything - a flavour pairing seen on a dessert menu in a restaurant, a sudden craving, new season fruit at the market, or the rediscovery of a long forgotten ingredient at the back of a cupboard.
Second, the development. Armed with coffee and my kitchen notebook, I take that first inspiration and begin to imagine the bare bones of a recipe. I wonder if those flavours would work in an enriched dough? Could I candy that fruit? Which secondary flavours – sugars, spices, herbs or grains – will make this ingredient sing? And perhaps more importantly, what mood am I in? Is this a slow cook, or do I just want something quick and delicious?
Next, the first draft. With the skeleton of an idea in mind, I’ll start to think logistically. I’ll consult my own recipe archive – how much cinnamon did I add to that cake? How long did those cookies take to bake in the end? I’ll also reference my extensive collection of cookbooks, to check that my imagined ratios and timings make sense. What would Nigel Slater do? Didn’t Elizabeth David make a plum cake with hazelnuts once? And perhaps before any of this – has the wonderful Felicity Cloake already done the hard work for me?
And then, the test drive. After shopping for or gathering together my ingredients and equipment, I test the recipe. I note down any changes – that’s far too much chocolate, this oven temperature is too high – but also roll with the punches. Sometimes things don’t turn out as I’d imagined, but are even more delicious for it. Baking is a paradoxical mix of precision and flare, after all.
This recipe was one such happy accident. A mismatched and quickly ripening bowl of pears, combined with a thrown together crumble made from store cupboard ingredients. If you don’t have pear liquer, use wine or water. I couldn’t resist a little decadence in my mid-week dessert.
3 ripe conference, comice or william pears
25g golden caster sugar
25ml pear liqeur, white wine or water
40g dark chocolate, finely chopped
40g wholemeal buckwheat flour
Pinch sea salt
½ tsp ground ginger
30g butter, cubed
20g muscavado sugar
30g rolled oats
30g hazelnuts, lightly toasted
Heat the oven to 180°C.
Peel the pears, then slice them in half and use a teaspoon to neatly scoop out the cores.
Melt the butter and golden caster sugar in a small saucepan. Once golden and dissolved, add the wine, vermouth or water and turn up the heat. Add the pears and saute. Remove as soon as they are golden and well coated in the butter and sugar. Transfer to a small ovenproof dish, pouring over any remaining cooking syrup, and allow them to cool. Scatter over the finely chopped chocolate.
For the crumble, whisk together the buckwheat flour, salt and ground ginger in a large bowl. Add the butter, and rub into the flour using your fingertips. Continue until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through the muscovado sugar, oats and hazelnuts.
Sprinkle the crumble over the pears. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the crumble topping is golden and the fruit is bubbling.