Sunday, 23 August 2015

Easy Upside-Down Pear & Almond Cake

A light, almond-scented cake that's best served warm with clouds of whipped cream, and preferably on a Sunday afternoon when the rain is pelting down and Monday's looming like an unwelcome house guest. This doesn't take much effort to make, and to make it even easier, I've used tinned pears. You can, of course, buy fresh pears, peel them and poach them, but why go to all this effort? I'm a huge fan of South African tinned fruit, which in my opinion is of outstanding quality.

Shower your Pear Cake with toasted, flaked almonds & icing sugar.

The first time I tested this recipe I used a sponge-cake formula, but despite its high butter content it was curiously dry. The second time, I went with a lighter, fat-free batter, which puffed up beautifully and was still airy the next day, when the cake had cooled and was dispatched to school and work in various lunchboxes. Another tweak I made to the second version was using double the quantity of tinned pears.

There are four watchpoints in this recipe: first, be sure to line your tin properly with baking paper, to prevent the cake burning and sticking at the edges.  Second, take your time beating the eggs and sugar to the ribbon stage - the mixture should be very pale, thick and fluffy before you add the flour. It's fairly quick to do this if you have an electric whisk or similar appliance, but if you are making this by hand you will need to put in a lot of elbow grease.

Third, don't be tempted to open the oven until about three-quarters of the way through the baking time. After that, you can take the occasional peek.  If you notice that the cake is browning too quickly in certain areas, rotate the tin (I have to do this as my oven has notorious hot spots), and cover it with a loose dome of tin foil.

Finally, don't over-scent your cake. Good almond extract has a powerful flavour, and must be used sparingly.  If you can't find proper extract, and you're using synthetic supermarket essence, I suggest you add a few drops at a time, tasting the mixture as you go.

Easy Upside-Down Pear and Almond Cake

2 x 820 g tins of pear halves
4 large free-range eggs
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
1½ cups (375 ml) cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
½ tsp (2.5 ml) almond extract 

For the glaze & topping: 

½ cup (125 ml) reserved pear juice (see recipe)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) smooth apricot jam
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
a handful of toasted almond flakes
whipped cream

Heat the oven to 170° C, fan on, or 180° C if your oven has no fan.

Open the tins of pears and drain the fruit for ten minutes in a colander set over a large bowl.  Reserve the pear juice.

Now prepare your tin. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a non-stick 23-cm springform cake tin. Cut a circle of baking paper to the same size as the base, press it down firmly, and spread a thin film of butter over it. Now cut a long strip of baking paper to roughly the same width as the height of the tin, and use it to line the sides of the tin.  Butter the baking paper.

Neatly arrange the drained pear halves on top of the paper-lined base of the cake tin, cut-side down and narrow ends pointing to the centre. If you like, you can tuck a whole blanched almond into the hollow of each pear.  Slice any extra pears in half, lengthways, and arrange them over the top.

Put the eggs and caster sugar into a big bowl and whisk at high speed with a hand-held rotary beater or similar appliance until the mixture has almost doubled in volume and is very pale, thick and fluffy.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the egg mixture, and gently stir until everything is well combined. Now stir in the milk and almond essence to create a fairly slack batter.

Pour the mixture all over the pears, and gently shake the pan so the batter penetrates to the bottom of the tin. One sharp tap on the counter will allow any bubbles to escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is well risen, firm to the touch, and a wooden skewer pushed into the cake comes out dry.

Paint the warm glaze all over the top of the cake.
While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Put 125 ml (half a cup) of the reserved pear juice into a saucepan and cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes, or until it has reduced by half. Now stir in the apricot jam and bubble over a medium heat for another 5 minutes, or until the mixture is syrupy and producing big, lazy bubbles. Add a spritz of lemon juice and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.

When the cake is ready, put the tin on your counter, wait for three minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen it.  Release the spring.

Put a plate on top of the tin, turn it over, then remove the base and carefully peel off the baking paper.

Using a pastry brush, paint the warm glaze all over the top, letting it dribble down the sides of the cake.

Scatter the toasted almonds over the top, sift over a little icing sugar and serve warm, with whipped cream.

Serves 8. 

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