It's been a long week, and hard to believe that that much time has passed since I made this cake. The crazy Christmas rush at work has kept me from sharing the recipe, but I have some time now.
We had friends over for coffee last week and I made this with the 2 pears I needed to use; I was also inspired to use up my blue cheese by folding it into the whipped cream to serve with the cake. I know this sounds strange, but it worked, especially as the pears were poached in caramel...the hints of tangy blue cheese went really well with the sweetness of the pears. The cake had a lovely texture, soft and crumbly with a bit of crunch thanks to the almonds and cornmeal.
I used the Almond Cornmeal Cake with Raspberries as my inspiration, using some of the pear poaching liquid for the cake batter. There were some poached pears left over as I had too many pieces for the cake...my daughter ate these as a dessert by themselves.
Peel and core:
Cut each pear half into 3 pieces.
Start the caramel for poaching the pears.
In a heavy bottomed pan, combine:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Cook on a low heat, swirling the pot occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.
Turn the heat to medium low and allow it to come to a boil. When the colour of the syrup starts to change, watch it very carefully.
Continue to cook the syrup, swirling the pot occasionally to ensure even cooking and colouring.
When the caramel is a dark amber, as shown in this picture, turn off the heat.
1 1/2 cups cold water
The caramel will seize up, bubble and hiss, so be careful to keep your distance. Turn the heat back on and allow the caramel to dissolve and come to a boil.
Gently place the pears into the liquid, and turn the heat down to a simmer.
If the pears are not covered by the liquid, add a bit more water.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the inside of the pot, and cover the pears with it, pressing down gently to eliminate any air.
This will help the pears to cook evenly, and prevent any oxidization while they are cooking.
Simmer until the pears are just tender; carefully remove the pears from the liquid and place on a plate to cool. Reserve the poaching liquid.
When the liquid and pears are both cool enough, place the pears into the liquid, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to make the cake.
Turn the oven on to 350F. Line a 9" round springform pan with parchment paper and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the wet ingredients:
1/4 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup poaching liquid
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup olive oil
In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup ground almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until just combined.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and gently press 8 pieces of the poached pear into the batter.
Bake until the cake is puffed up around the pears, golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. This took around 40 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool before carefully removing the ring from the springform pan.
Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar before serving.
Serve the cake with whipped cream. I added some of the cooled poaching liquid into the cream while it was whipping, and then folded some finely crumbled blue cheese into the cream.
- Any nuts can be used in this cake; I think that toasted and ground hazelnuts would be great with the pears. I had almonds, so I used those. Don't be afraid to experiment with flavours.
- The cake can be flavoured with lemon or orange zest, ground aniseed or cinnamon.
- The pears don't have to be poached. It was a way to bring in another layer of flavour. Other fruits that can be used are apples, quince, peaches, plums or apricots. They can all be poached, or left unpoached, but thinly sliced and pushed into the batter before baking.
- When making the caramel for poaching, be very careful to watch it as soon as the colour starts changing. As soon as the sugar starts to caramelize it heats up quickly and can turn from golden to burnt in the blink of an eye. When the caramel reaches the desired colour, add the water immediately to cool the caramel and stop it from continuing to cook. As long as the caramel is still hot it will continue to cook and darken.
- If you are not comfortable making caramel, or want a different flavour there are so many options for poaching pears. A basic poaching liquid is sugar and water; use the amount of sugar that gives you the sweetness you desire. Add layers of flavour by using other liquids such as red or white wine; black tea such as Earl Grey or Chai; juice such as apple or cranberry. Add in spices...cinnamon sticks, cloves, slices of fresh ginger, orange or lemon rind, pink or black peppercorns, saffron.
- It is important that the pears are poached until they are just tender, but still firm. Cooking them slowly allows the maximum amount of flavour from the poaching liquid to infuse the pears, without overcooking them.
- The pears can be poached a day or two ahead, and stored in the poaching liquid, well covered.
- These pears can be served as a dessert, without being put into the cake. Leave the pears in halves to poach, and fill the cavity with mousse to serve.
- If you wish to leave the pears whole for poaching, peel the pear and use a melon baller to scoop the core out from the bottom of the pear. This leaves a cavity for stuffing, and also allows the poaching liquid to infuse the pear from the inside as well as the outside. The pear can be filled with mousse before serving.
- This cake will keep for 2 - 3 days, well wrapped. It is best served at room temperature.