Nestled deep in the heart of a comfortable homely burrow in the midst of these long dark days with only the warmth of a glowing fireplace to sooth the absence of Summertime and her simple pleasures, I reflect on past year’s endeavours. By the end of the holiday season, the illusion of time standing still begins to translate into reality through what seems to be a winter never-ending.
However, time and time again I am reminded of the beauty of January, with its solemn demeanour and shy, fresh complexion. So consistently has it been overlooked after the abrupt ending of festivities, that many have forgotten the true nature behind its mundane façade: the sense of hope, and the opportunity of a clean start. So many a time, we have stood at the time-worn gates of Janus, hesitant and uncertain, bringing along the baggage of the past, the sense of helplessness and half-hearted desires of self-improvement. January offers the shedding of old skin and a promise of fresh pastures and the prospect of longer days ahead. Each morning we wake, brings us closer to the humble strawberry, to the golden sunshine, to the wishful dandelion glades.
Now onwards to fresh beginnings. Happy new year. And a happy birthday to my dear sister, Faye, who celebrated her last birthday not being a mother. That the joyful little smile of her future son may lend extra sunshine to all coming birthdays.
Pear Almond Cake
Cooking time: 1 hour
Makes: 1x8inch cake
Perhaps I poorly named it, as this cake is more than a simple pear and almond cake. Instead, it is a rich, moist almond and ricotta cake with a forced rhubarb cream filling and pear infused buttercream and caramel. Last year’s harvested pears and this year’s forced rhubarb. Sweet memories and memories to be made.
Pear Almond Cake
100g caster sugar
zest 1 lemon
4 large eggs, separated
125g ground almonds
1 pear, grated
125g (minus 3tbsp) plain flour
3tbsp tapioca flour
1 1/2tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup almond flakes
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan-assisted) 350ºF.
In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest, pear and the ricotta to the bowl and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, add the flours, salt and baking powder, sieving 3 times to ensure the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Slowly, add the dry mixture and the ground almonds to the batter.
Using a whisk, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Take a large tablespoon of the whites and add to the almond batter to help loosen it. Next, gently spoon and fold in more egg whites (do not beat it as this will remove the air). When well incorporated, pour the batter into a prepared cake tin. Sprinkle the almond flakes over the top of the cake and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a skewer goes in and comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting the cake in half horizontally.
Alternatively, can be served as is with a liberal dusting of confectionary sugar.
Basic Buttercream Frosting
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Makes: Approximately 1 1/4 cup
300g confectionary sugar
2-3tbsp whole milk
Cream the butter and sugar together until there are no lumps. Add a tablespoon of milk at a time until desired consistency is reached (should be soft and creamy).
Pear + Beurre Noisette Buttercream
Cooking time: 30 minutes + 1 hour cooling time
Makes: 2 1/2 cups
2tbsp whole milk
2 1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cup confectionary sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup fresh pear juice
Place 1/2 cup of butter into a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Stir occasionally. When in turns a dark amber colour, take off the heat and pour into a bowl (make sure the brown solids are included). Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
When ready, cream the rest of the butter and the confectionary sugar together. Add the brown butter and brown sugar. Mix well.
Next, add the pear juice, milk, salt and vanilla extract. Mix together thoroughly to ensure the buttercream is smooth. Set aside until needed.
Rhubarb Cream Filling
Cooking time: 30 minutes + 1 hour cooling
Makes: approximately 3 cups
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
250g forced rhubarb
4-5tbsp pomegranate juice
500ml heavy cream
In a saucepan, add the rhubarb, sugar, water, pomegranate juice and lemon. Allow to come to a boil over a medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the syrup thickens slightly. Pour into a jam jar or a bowl and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator.
When ready, whip the heavy cream until peaks are formed and then fold in the rhubarb syrup. Set aside in the refrigerator until needed.
Salted Pear + Cardamom Spiced Caramel
Cooking time: 20 minutes + 1 hour cooling
Makes: 1 1/4 cups
60ml pear juice
125ml heavy cream
220g caster sugar
1/4tsp sea salt
Place the pear juice and sugar over a medium heat. Stir to ensure that both ingredients are combined and then do not stir. Allow the sugar syrup to turn a dark brown before adding the butter. Stir until all the butter has melted before taking off the heat and adding the heavy cream, cardamom and sea salt. Mix throughly before pouring into a bowl. Set aside to cool.
(Tip: warm the sauce up slightly before pouring it on to the cake as it will thicken whilst it cools).
Sea Salt Roasted Almonds (decoration)
Cooking time: approximately 10 minutes
Makes: 40g almonds
1/4tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to the highest temperature. When the oven is at the correct temperature, place the almonds onto a baking tray and place in the oven for 6 minutes or until golden in colour (tip: you will need to keep a close eye as they burn easily). Remove from the oven and spoon into a bowl. Coat the almonds in the butter and add the salt. Toss to incorporate. Set aside to cool.
Spread the rhubarb cream on the bottom layer and the 3rd layer (underneath the top cake layer) and spread the basic buttercream on the 2nd layer. Spread the pear + beurre noisette buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Pour the caramel over the top and spread across to the sides to achieve the dripping effect. Decorate with the almonds and sugar nibs (optional).
Thank you for reading.
Note: If you do wish to decorate with seasonal flowers, as I have done here, please do ensure that the flowers you have chosen do not touch the actual cake, unless you are certain they are edible.