Friday, March 23, 2012

Easy Peasy Pear Cake

Easy peasy lemon squeezy just about sums up this pear cake recipe. It comes from my favourite Jane Grigson's Fruit Book (At Table) and she collected the recipe in France.

Youngest was looking for something new to bake and since my sister-in-law had just harvested an abundance of pears from her tree, all of which were begging to be used up quickly, I turned to the pear section of the book. Two recipes for pear cakes sat side-by-side, both French, both very similar. Youngest chose this one because the pears were mixed into the batter rather than placed on top.

There is no creaming or rubbing in. The dry ingredients are stirred together, the butter melted and mixed in along with the eggs, then the pears and lemon juice folded in and that’s it. Perfect for a child just beginning to bake all by herself.

It’s not the lightest of sponges, perhaps best served warm with cream as a dessert, but the pears are cooked in it to meltingly soft perfection, the lemon juice adding just enough spritz, and the cake disappeared very rapidly both warm and cold the next day.

Jane Grigson’s Anjou Pear Cake Recipe
500g / 1lb firm ripe pears (we used one that was still very crunchy and it turned out still crunchy in the cake!)
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
75g / 1/3 cup castor sugar
2 large eggs
60g / 2oz / ¼ cup melted butter
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to180C / 350F
Prepare a greased and lined 20cm/8inch cake tin.
Squeeze the lemon into a bowl.
Peel, core and chop the pears into chunks, then turn them in the lemon juice to keep them from going brown.
Stir together the dry ingredients.
Beat the eggs then add to the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter and the water.
At this stage the mixture will still feel rather thick and lumpy.
Add the pears with all the lemon juice and it should adjust to the right soft consistency.
Pour the mixture into the lined tin, level it off and bake for about an hour until a skewer comes out clean.
The cake can be glazed with an apricot jam glaze, but we ate it just as it was.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just When You Thought Everything Had Been Harvested...

I guess it's leek and potato soup for our Autumn festival this weekend!

Just hoping that this little guy, who hangs out in my herb garden, won't eat all those little parsley seedlings before they get established. The beautiful row of healthy plants that I had last year all went to seed at the same time, so I'm really looking forward to an abundant supply of plants again, as long as there is enough time for them to grow before we run out of sunny weather!

In the meantime, I'm all out of parsley which is a terrible fix for a herb garden to be in. it will have to be marjoram and thyme in the soup this weekend instead!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beach Art

When summer makes a come-back and a Sunday afternoon is too hot to handle, heading for the beach seems a good idea. There the breeze is cool, the water numbingly chilly, sun warm but not uncomfortable. This time we hear the surf rumbling from the dunes before we even reach the beach. The tranquil mood of our birthday beach party is forgotten, an edgy restlessness takes its place. The waves are frothy and hurry in on each others' heels, pushing each other at an angle down the beach, with a fierce rip.

The kids play in the water for a while and then get creative on the sand... with a horse theme of course.

His name is of course Blaze.

And then a sneaky wave rushes in, blurring sharp edges.

A circle in the sand defining a territory. The power of a line on the sand is enough to deflect walkers –  two ladies power walking headed directly for the centre on their line down the beach, but took not one step into the circle, slowing and stepping around the perimeter, as if a magic wall repels all invaders.

The girls retire up the beach to begin another horse artwork.

And then it’s home again to find the heat still engulfing our farm, the early promise of Autumn beaten back by a summer that still has some reserves up its sleeve.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

First Solo Chocolate Cake

Early this morning just as the sun was rising....

At the stables where the girls ride, there is a tradition that any time you fall off you have to bring chocolate cake to the next lesson. This tends to make falling off an event to be celebrated, albeit with a sideways grin to it. Two weeks ago Youngest was deposited on the ground after the recalcitrant Peanuts decided to go through a fence rather than over the jump in front of him. As it is rare for her to come completely unstuck from the saddle, this is only her second chocolate cake event and she was determined to bake it herself.

Wednesday afternoons are busy. I collect the girls from school, pick up two of their friends for a play date, drop them all home, then head straight off to retrieve our son from cricket practice. I left them to their baking solo. Middle Daughter is a fairly accomplished baker already, but Youngest, though she helps a lot, hasn’t yet tackled a recipe start to finish completely on her own.

While I waited for cricket to finish my phone rang.

“How much is 10ml?” my husband asked. So he’d been roped into proceedings. He’s well used to the mechanics of bread baking by now and is taking turns with the daily loaves several times a week now, but I don’t know when if ever he’s made a cake, so the girls were probably more experienced than him, except when it comes to reading my hand-written recipes of course.

I enlightened him and went back to watching cricket.

The older girls ran out to meet me as I drove into the garage forty minutes later.

“The cake’s all sticky and it tastes of cream of tartar” was my chorused greeting from them.

I went in and examined the mixture. Sure enough it had a kind off rubbery texture that bounced back on itself, resisting spreading, nothing like the recommended soft dropping consistency of the recipe.

After a lengthy interrogation I managed to establish that almost all the right ingredients had gone in, and pretty much in the right quantities. All that was missing was the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). The big difference seemed to be in the order things had gone in. Instead of mixing together the dry ingredients, they had put in the flour on its own and then added the cream of tartar, without the bicarb, at the end after the liquids had gone in. It was an interesting chemical experiment to see how much difference this simple alteration made to the consistency.

Anyway by adding the bicarb and a bit more milk we managed to loosen up the mixture a bit, though it still tasted a bit odd. It was duly baked, rising like a volcano in the centre but perfectly acceptably cake-like.

This morning Youngest got dressed quickly, a rare occurrence as she usually lingers and gets abstracted in thought, to leave enough time to ice the cake. She mixed the chocolate butter icing and then lovingly spread it over the volcanic slopes, finally adorning it with a horse’s head outlined in blue sugar balls with a silver ball star on its forehead.

She was rightly very pleased with her achievement and proudly bore it off with her to school. She’s promised to bring some back for us to taste after riding today. We'll see if there's anything left!