Have you ever eaten a pear before? I don’t mean one of those bland, lifeless things from the supermarket, crunchy and tasteless until they ripen (the moment you’re out of the room according to Eddie Izzard) into a dribbly mess. No i mean a real-life pear, grown on a farm, bought at a market from a guy with mud on his overalls who looked frankly bemused by this whole city life and interacting with people malarkey.
If you haven’t it might surprise you to learn that some pears smell and taste of pear drops. Yes really, that overly false, chemical taste in those lovely, though annoyingly sharp pink and yellow boiled sweets is actually not too far from the truth of what a perfectly ripe, soft-yet-crunchy Comice pear tastes like. On the outside at least. And without the chemical bit. It’s a softened form of the pear drop taste, but pear drops it is. And then you take another bite, deeper into the centre of the pear and realise it tastes distinctly of raisins. Like a rich dessert wine, or a fruit cake full or raisins, sultanas and madeira. That’s what a ripe pear tastes of. Or it could, if you get the right ripe pear.
So if you’re baking with that pear you don’t want to drown it in caramel sauce, or mush it up in a spice cake. You want to let it sing, highlight its essential pear droppiness, accentuate its sliding scale of flavours, like matching a complex wine to food. Nothing too bland, nothing to heavy-handed. Something like cardamom should do the trick. Although it crops up a lot in Indian cooking cardamom is also, surprisingly, a key ingredient in many Scandinavian cakes, and brings back memories of tall conifers and cool lakes.
Pear and cardamom cake
Adapted from Tartelette
The pear works beautifully with the cardamom in the cake, though I have made it before with apple, as in the original, which is just as delicious. The topping, once baked, turns into a sort of thick glaze on top of the pears. It can easily be left out if you prefer to leave the pear and cardamom unadulterated.
1/2 cup gf flour blend
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 cardamom pods
2 tablespoons oil (sunflower, vegetable)
1 egg, beaten – use half this volume for the cake, and half for the topping
1 pear, cored and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Scant 1/4 cup sugar
Remaining beaten egg
3 drops vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Lightly oil the inside of a 7-inch round cake tin.
2. In a pestle and mortar grind the cardamom pods until they open and release their seeds. Discard the pods and grind the seeds finely.
3. Whisk the gf flour blend, baking powder, salt and cardamom together in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk together the milk, oil and half the beaten egg. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour most of the liquids into the dry ingredients. Stir until the ingredients come together. Add more liquid if necessary. The batter should be a thick dropping consistency.
4. Pour the batter into the tin. Lay the pear slices over the top of the batter and put the cake in the oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile cream the butter and sugar together for the topping until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the remaining egg and vanilla extract until the mixture is creamy and homogenous.
5. Remove the cake from the oven, quickly spread the creamy topping over the cake and pears and replace the cake in the oven for a further 15 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
6. Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then serve on its own or with crème fraîche.
Keeps for a couple of days covered in the fridge.