Monday, 16 November 2009

a country mouse burns a cake

This is the farmers' market I go to every couple of weeks with a German friend. She is a very careful shopper and makes sure she always gets the best quality food to feed her family. She's a great example to country mouse, who is getting lazy and has been spending a bit too much time and money in Marks and Spencers recently. As you can see from the photo above, however, we are not spoiled for choice in terms of fruit and vegetables. Cabbages, turnips, parsnips, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and some hard pears, and that's yer lot, missis. Quite a contrast to the amazing markets on Lucy's Kitchen Notebook which I like to imagine myself wandering through in the French sunshine, wicker basket in hand. A farmers' market on a Scottish November morning is rather a bracing place to be and you certainly feel you've earned your dinner. On this particular windswept morning I felt like the hunter home from the hill. I bought half a dozen medium eggs from the stall below (love that tablecloth) with the intention of using them with the hard pears to make Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's pear and almond cake.
It's a variation on the apple cake that I made so many of during the late summer/early autumn when I was getting bags full of apples from Grandado and Little Granny's trees. The recipe looked very easy, and having seen the man himself making it on TV the other night, I felt fully equipped to give it a go. Apparently it doesn't matter that that the pears are hard as the heat from the caramelising process makes them soft and juicy.
You need 3 conference pears, 25g unsalted butter and 1tbsp granulated sugar to make the caramelised pears for the top of the cake. You melt the butter at a high heat then add the pears, peeled, cored and quartered, and cook gently until they begin to colour. Then add the tbsp of granulated sugar and shake the pan till the pears are coated. While Hugh did all of the above he was busy beating the butter and sugar for the next stage, but I know my limitations so did the pears first then tackled the beating bit. You use electric beaters, unless you are very strong, to beat 300g of softened unsalted butter until soft and pale. Add 250g caster sugar then beat in 4 medium eggs (above), one at a time, thoroughly combining each one before you add the next. Then fold in 150g wholemeal self raising flour, 150g ground almonds and a pinch of cinnamon and turn the mixture into a greased and lined 23cm springform cake tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour over the caramelised butter/pear juice from the pan.
Bake, says Hugh, for 35 mins at 170degC. Well, after 35 minutes my cake was wobbling in the tin when I pulled out the tray to check it. 10 minutes after that there was no perceptible change and a skewer came out slathered in cake mixture. I covered it with foil (top getting dangerously dark), turned it up to 180deg and gave it another 10. Then another 10. After baking the damn thing for more than an hour I lost patience and took it out. Here's the result:
It didn't look too good, but it tasted fine once we'd scraped off the burnt bits. I would bake it again, but perhaps at 180deg from the start and I would caramelise the pears for longer so there was less buttery juice soaking into the mixture. Cake is cake, after all, and country mouse has never met a cake she didn't love.


  1. All gone. Couldn't have been that bad!

  2. I am glad that it turned out all right in the end!

    Pomona x

  3. Love your new polka dot look! And I currently have a pear cake in the oven - inspired by Hugh too! Mine's a bit more lazy though - basic Vic sponge with cinnamon and Favols pear 'fruit saveurs'... Fingers crossed.

  4. Hugh's recipes are the thing of the moment over at our place too. That pear cake sounds like I need to give it a go. We sell vegies and eggs at farmers markets in Australia and I love it when people get all excited about our produce and tell me what they are going to make with it.

  5. That is such a shame. I am glad I didn't pick up on Hugh's temperature and timings. It was a bit of serendipity that I made up my own time and temperature and that it worked well. My pears were already ripe, so I don't know how much difference that makes.

  6. LOL!!! I had a busting-out laugh at your frustrating words!! Sorry, not making fun of you... I've been there before. At least it tasted good.