I think it’s time I admit it – I have a sweet tooth. While I love both sweet and savoury foods, I love the meal to end on a sweet note, even if it’s a small tub of yoghurt, a plate of sliced fruit or a few squares of chocolate.
Growing up, we never had a pudding or cake to end every meal. Dessert was made on special occasions, when we had guests or on some weekends. My brother and I helped to mix and stir the batter, and sometimes when my mother turned around, we snuck chocolate chips and sprinkles into her carefully measured out bowl of ingredients. I don’t remember her getting angry but it could explain why the weekend muffins or scones were made on Friday while we were still at school.
Despite enjoying desserts, I am not an avid baker, mostly because I have stuck to a few tried and trusted recipes – for convenience, perhaps, and a little fear of wasting time and a mountain of expensive ingredients as well as having so many good options available at bakeries and stores.
But, really, nothing can compare to the smell of a cake baking, the kitchen filling with vanilla, cinnamon and in this case the fragrance of beautiful Ercolini pears.
This cake is based on an old Victoria sponge recipe, but I made a rather large one with no layers, baked in a bundt or ring cake pan. I used fragrant, tiny Ercolini pears (in season here in the northern hemisphere).
I adorned the cake with a salted caramel sauce I made and while on the theme:salted caramel shards. Looks fancy but is so easy to make and takes just a cup of white sugar and a teaspoon of sea salt.
This pear sponge is a celebratory cake -with it we toasted the end of two and a half months of being away from home, the incredible opportunity we’ve had to explore so much of Europe in one go (not to mention the bounty of new foods we’ve eaten), the new friends we’ve made and the knowledge that we will be reunited with precious old friends and family soon.
I encourage you to take some time, gather the kids (but keep the sprinkles and chocolate chips out of their reach) and make this cake to celebrate something in your own life.
- Victoria sponge uses the formula of equal weight (not volume) of eggs, sugar, butter and flour. Use the eggs as the starting point. If the eggs are large, they should weigh around 63 grams each. That makes them a total of 252 grams. A block of butter is conveniently 250 g. Now weigh the sugar and flour to equal 252 grams. Use a digital scale for best results – this is essential.
- You may make two large standard cake layers and serve individually or fill with fresh cream.
- Using fresh pears can be tricky, you need to use very ripe ones or give them a quick steam if they aren’t very ripe. I’d recommend you use tinned pears if pears aren’t in season where you live.
- For the caramel sauce and shards, use a heavy based pan or pot as thin based pots cook warp and unevenly and may result in burning. Once burnt you can do nothing to save the sauce but have to start over
- Use white granulated sugar for the sauce and shards – brown contains unrefined particles that will not yield a smooth result. Also melting brown sugar will not have the visible colour change process for you to easily identify when the amber stage is achieved and may burn as a result.
- While you are allowed to stir the sugar only until it melts and not after, try to avoid this and swirl the pot instead.
- For the sauce, use a deep pot as the mixture will bubble and froth up when you add the butter and the cream
- If you have lumps in the sauce, never fear- you can strain the sauce. But cleaning the sieve may prove a nightmare once the sugar solidifies.
- Exercise caution – use a long sleeved shirt and you should not leave the pot unattended until the caramel is ready.
6 small ripe pears, peeled, cored and halved or 12 canned pear halves (less if using bigger pears)
250 g unsalted butter, softened at room temp
250 g castor sugar
1 t vanilla extract
4 large free range eggs (av weight 63 g each)
250 g self raising flour, sifted
1/2 t cinnamon powder, sifted (optional)
50 ml milk
Beat the butter with a wooden spoon by hand (I was without any of my kitchen equipment so did this by hand), or a food processor with beating attachment until light and creamy.
Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy – by hand this took around 6 minutes. Also gives the sugar time to dissolve.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well. If it looks like they are going to curdle the mixture, add a little of the flour in and mix.
Now add the flour and beat well, but gently until no traces of flour remain. You must exercise restraint, while you want all the flour mixed well, you don’t want to undo the work you’ve done aerating the mixture. The batter will be thick. The test I’ve read you need to perform: if the batter drops from an upturned spoon, it’s the right consistency. I always find I need to add milk to achieve this.
Add the milk (more or less if needed) and mix well.
Grease and flour the baking tin – I used a 26 cm ring (bundt) pan.
Please pear halves, cut side up at the bottom of the pan, close to each other to “cover” most of the surface.
You will need to use a spoon to ladle the batter over the pears. Smooth the top.
Bake the large cake for 30 -35 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. If you make smaller cakes or loaves, you will need to bake for less time.
Allow cake to cool in tin for an hour or so. Remove carefully, invert with pears on top and allow to cool on a wire rack.
You may want to lop a thin slice of what was the top of the cake (now at the bottom) if baked unevenly, but once you invert it isn’t necessary.
When the cake is cool, pour the caramel sauce over and decorate with the salted caramel shards.
Note: The cake has a denser texture than a thinner Victoria Sponge.
The shards will melt into the cake if left for longer than a day or two. No harm done though.
For the Salted Caramel Sauce:
1/4 cup water
250 ml (1 cup) white granulated sugar
2 T salted butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) single or heavy cream
sea salt (to taste)
In a heavy based saucepan (thin pot will cook unevenly and may burn), add the water and the sugar and bring to the boil on medium-high heat.
Swirl the pot regularly to help the sugar melt, but never stir with a spoon or other utensil.
The colour will darken to an amber. Once it reaches this colour (be careful, it will be very hot) turn heat to low and add butter- it will froth and bubble. Use a whisk to mix. Do this quickly.
Remove from stove and add cream – it will bubble up. Whisk till smooth.
Add salt and mix. Allow sauce to cool to room temperature. Will thicken on cooling.
For the: Salted Caramel Shards
250 ml white granulated sugar
1 t sea salt flakes (fleur de sal)
Line a baking tray snugly with foil.
In a small heavy-based pan melt the sugar on medium heat.
Swirl pan to assist the process but never add a spoon or other utensil to do this. Be vigilant, so sugar does not burn.
The sugar will start to darken and when it’s melted and a deep amber colour, pour thinly on lined tray.
Scatter salt over and allow to cool completely.
When cool, break into shards.
This post forms part of the series of recipes I am preparing for Woolworths, the food sponsor for MasterChef SA. It is a Food and the Fabulous Endorsed project and I will be remunerated for it