Pear, chocolate and almond cake

Pear, chocolate and almond cakeI bought some pears a while ago with the vague intention of using them in a bake. When I finally remembered that they were still knocking about, I did a bit of research and decided to amalgamate two recipes to create this promising-sounding pear, chocolate and almond cake.

The two recipes I found were from Good Housekeeping and Tinned Tomatoes, which both looked excellent. I mainly followed the method from Tinned Tomatoes, while incorporating the almonds using Good Housekeeping’s method.

All went relatively well – I had to leave the cake in for longer than the recipe said, of course, but that’s nothing new for my oven! I only got a chance to properly taste it the next day, and was impressed by how fudgy the cake looked when I sliced it up.

Pear, chocolate and almond cake
However, the taste wasn’t quite what I expected. The almond flavour came through so strongly I could only just about taste the chocolate, and the pear was hardly anywhere to be seen! It was a bit disappointing, although it was still a lovely cake. I think perhaps my almond extract was overly strong (I used 1 tsp of it), and the pears weren’t ripe enough.

If I make this again, I’ll use a lot less almond extract (if any) and riper conference pears rather than the not-so-ripe dessert pears I actually used. I might also try adding dark chocolate to the mix or, failing that, serving the cake with a rich chocolate sauce!

The recipe below takes the above into account – it’s worth going slowly with the extract and tasting the mix as you go along.

Pear, chocolate and almond cake
Pear, chocolate and almond cake recipe

From Good Housekeeping and Tinned Tomatoes

Serves 8-10

  • 50g cocoa
  • 150ml hot water
  • One-quarter to half a teaspoon of almond extract, depending on its strength
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 very ripe conference pears, peeled and sliced lengthways
  • 25g flaked almonds

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4. Grease a round 20cm springform tin and line the base with baking parchment.
  2. Dissolve the cocoa in the hot water and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugars and almond extract until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the ground almonds, eggs, cocoa mixture and flour, and beat until smooth.
  5. Pour the batter into the tin and place the pear slices on top. Scatter the flaked almonds on top.
  6. Bake for at least an hour. Check the cake with a skewer (it’s ready when the skewer comes out without any mix on it) and leave for 10 minutes a time, checking with a skewer each time, until the cake is cooked in the middle.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely before serving.

 

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First bake: tiramisu brownie cake

Tiramisu brownie cakeA friend of mine celebrated her birthday the other week, but I rather shamefully only got round to baking her a cake a few days ago. I hoped the fact that it combined two of her favourite things (as much chocolate as humanly possible and tiramisu) would persuade her to forget its belatedness.

Tiramisu brownie cake mix

Tiramisu brownie cake mix

This was actually a little bit of an experiment – I’ve been meaning to make BBC Good Food’s brownie cake for bloody ages (a massive brownie??? Genius, I say!), and only made ‘normal’ tiramisu (albeit with a white chocolate spin) a few weeks ago. I do love the combination of coffee, chocolate and almonds, but just don’t seem to indulge in it that often!

Tiramisu brownie cake 7

Anyway. I followed the Good Food recipe pretty much to the letter, but tweaked it a bit to add a dash of coffee to the mix. I can’t say I really tasted the coffee in the brownie, but that was ok, because the icing very definitely had a distinctive coffee flavour.

Tiramisu brownie cake 6

This was more of my own concoction – mascarpone, amaretto, very strong coffee and a mixture of brown and icing sugar. It did end up a little wet and had soaked through the brownie cake after a day or so, but I don’t think that was a turn-off for the recipient! However, next time I make this (and there WILL be a next time) I’ll make the icing more like a buttercream so it’s a little more stiff and doesn’t seep through the cake.

Tiramisu brownie cake 4

All in all, this was a HEAVENLY cake. The brownie cake was dense, chocolatey and decadent, and the coffee mascarpone icing was just mmmnfgh. It really was. Apart from adding more icing sugar to the icing and maybe sprinkling over some flaked almonds as a finishing touch, I don’t think any major changes are needed to the actual flavours. Huzzah.

The recipe

For the brownie base, follow the recipe on BBC Good Food here – you can add some instant coffee granules to the mix if you like: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3431/chocolate-brownie-cake

While the cake is cooling, make the icing by beating together the following until smooth:

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 50ml very strong coffee, cooled
  • 3 tbsp light brown soft sugar
  • 2 tbsp amaretto (or a teaspoon of almond extract)
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar (I would recommend adding a lot more and omitting the brown sugar if you want a drier icing)

Spread the icing in one deliciously thick layer on top of the cooled cake and sift a little cocoa powder over the top. I decorated my cake with edible silver balls, but flaked almonds and/or grated white chocolate would also work well.

First bake: plum cake

Plum cakeHappy new year! Didn’t 2012 whizz by?! I was meant to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a Japanese meal at a friend’s house, so I made this plum cake to take round, as plums play a big role in Japanese cooking. Unfortunately, the meal fell through, so I ended up with a lot of cake on my hands… not really an awful situation to be in!

I originally meant to try my hand at sata andagi with cinnamon cream and a plum compote, but chickened out at the last minute, partly due to a lack of time, but also because I was a bit scared of doing doughnuts for the very first time. So I decided to make a plum cake instead.

This recipe was very easy to whip up, fortunately. The most time consuming part was halving and stoning the plums; everything else was just a matter of beating together all the ingredients.

Plum cake, pre-baking

Plum cake, pre-baking

I used my square brownie tin instead of a round tin as specified in the recipe, simply because I didn’t have a round tin that was big enough. It worked fine in the end, but I needded fewer plums (10 instead of 12) and had to bake the cake for a good deal longer than the recipe said. I also cut it into 9 pieces instead of 12. I was very generous with the cinnamon on top – 1 tsp doesn’t sound like much at all!

I also made an almond cream to go with the cake; this was just a matter of whipping some double cream until thick, adding a few drops of almond extract and mixing in a little icing sugar. And that was it!

The cake was very, very nice indeed, and I will definitely make it again. It’s quite sweet, and the plum flavour combined with the cinnamon is divine. The almond cream goes really well with it; I would recommend whipping up something similar to serve with the warm cake if you try this recipe too.

Warm plum cake and almond cream

Warm plum cake and almond cream

The recipe

From Allrecipes here: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/17476/easy-plum-cake.aspx

First bake: alchemist’s chocolate cake

Alchemist's chocolate cake

It’s been a bit of a funny weekend baking-wise. I made some salt caramel millionaire’s shortbread yesterday that didn’t turn out quite right, so I thought I’d blog about it the next time I make it (when it will hopefully be better!). I was desperate to bake something else this weekend, though, so I settled on this rather lovely chocolate cake recipe from Dan Lepard.

I think it’s called alchemist’s cake because it uses seemingly innocuous ingredients to create something rather decadent – it’s actually a low fat cake, but manages to be wonderfully moist and tasty despite the fact there’s no butter in it! The fat comes in the form of walnut oil, while the moistness comes from a bit of an odd ingredient – tinned pears.

You can’t taste the pears at all, though – it’s just a damn good chocolate cake. One of the things that probably elevates this over most other low fat chocolate cakes is the cocoa I used. I unexpectedly ran out of my usual bog standard cocoa powder and only had 25g of it left, so I topped it up with… *drum roll* … some Valrhona cocoa powder.

Valrhona cocoa powder

Valrhona cocoa powder

This is a top-end cocoa powder from a very highly regarded chocolate brand – Google it if you’ve never heard of it. I’ve never had Valrhona’s chocolate bars (apparently some aren’t as good as you might expect, but others are very good), but I bought this cocoa powder quite a while ago with the vague intention of using it in something special.

You can tell it’s of the highest quality – in the below photo, you can see the gorgeously dark, fine Valrhona on top of the paler standard cocoa powder I mixed it with.

Cocoa powder for alchemist's chocolate cake

Cocoa powder for alchemist’s chocolate cake

Anyway, the recipe was pretty easy, even though it involved a saucepan AND a blender! The result was a fantastic looking cake – you’ve got to admit it doesn’t look like a healthy option!

I decided to make things a bit more exciting by inventing a coffee and almond buttercream to layer it with (the original recipe just suggests serving as is, or with cream/melted chocolate). This was easy too – I gradually beat 70g of icing sugar into 50g of softened butter and 4.5 teaspoons of strong coffee (made with a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in a splash of boiling water). Then I mixed in a drop of almond extract.

Alchemist's chocolate cake

Alchemist’s chocolate cake

Et voila! One formerly healthy and now slightly fattening alchemist’s chocolate cake with coffee and almond buttercream. I haven’t had a whole piece yet, but I’ve, erm, ‘sampled’ enough of the cake mix and buttercream to know this is going to be delicious! The team I manage at work will probably be delighted to know I’m going to bring some pieces into the office tomorrow for some impartial opinions…

Update: I have now sampled a piece of this cake. I honestly can’t believe how good it is for a low fat bake! It’s really very chocolaty and moist. I would recommend this recipe if, like me, you’re keeping an eye on your weight (6 WeightWatchers ProPoints per piece when cut into 10 pieces without buttercream, 8 ProPoints with the buttercream).

The recipe

From Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, and also in his column for the Guardian (this version is slightly different though – the book recipe I used called for 3 medium eggs instead of 1 large egg!).