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Some years ago I was standing in the aisle of a store waiting to pay for something when I caught a glimpse of a book entitled Roast Duck on Sunday. Seduced by the title I rushed home and couldn’t wait to be captivated by somebody else’s food memories. The book was everything I expected and more, it traces the life of two sisters growing up on a farm in South Africa – their cherished moments with family highlighted through time-honoured recipes. A part of me wanted to be them. In my world, a life well lived translates into being able to look back on a scrapbook of memories built around family and friends gathering around something wonderful to eat.

If days could talk I suppose Sundays would have the most to say about family traditions. From Sunday lunches, to Sunday picnics, to Sunday barbecues, everything about this day tells tales of family and food. While for some it might be roast duck on Sunday, in this home like so many others, it’s afternoon tea. Whether it’s a cake, bread or biscuits I just know that I’m really happy when there’s the smell of baked anything drifting around on lazy Sunday afternoons.

Today called for cake! Nothing fancy or complicated, just a simple loaf using the oldest of cake methods, the Victoria Sponge method. Creaming of butter and sugar and eggs makes a British sponge cake which I think is one of the easiest cakes to make. Once you perfect a basic sponge cake recipe there is no limit to the variations you can get from it. By using sponge cake as my base I’ve added a twist here and there to create something completely new to me. This cake is a moist sponge with notes of almond and pear. The pear halves that soften as they bake are placed inside the uncooked batter to turn this somewhat ordinary cake recipe into one that excites the eye let alone the appetite. Dripping with a butterscotch sauce and toasted almonds, every serving is honoured with a luscious slice of pear right down the middle.

I suppose there’s a lot more I could say about it but I’m getting ready to sit down to a piece with a strong cup of tea so I think I’ll end this post in hurried fashion, but not before urging you to give this tea-time treat a definite go.

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Ingredients
  • 80g castor sugar
  • 80g unsalted softened butter
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 160g cake flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bitter almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2tbs milk (to loosen the mixure)
  • 2-3 pears
For the Butterscotch Sauce with Almonds
  • 30g almonds
  • 80g white sugar
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 4tbs milk
Preparation
  1. Line a 12x25cm loaf tin with parchment paper making sure that the sides overhang so that the finished cake can be easily lifted out instead of being turned out. If the paper doesn’t stick to the tin, rub a bit of butter to the sides to stick the paper down.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, sift flour and baking powder together and set aside.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl beat sugar and eggs until pale and fluffy. Clean the sides of the bowl and whisk again.
  4. Add eggs one at a time and beat until the mixture is smooth and runny.
  5. Add extracts and beat.
  6. Add half of the flour and baking powder and mix well until no signs of white is in the batter before adding the other half. Repeat this step.
  7. Add the milk and mix one last time to incorporate. Batter should be smooth, in between a stiff and runny consistency.
  8. Preheat the oven to 160°C gas fan / 180°C electric fan / 200°C  conventional.
  9. Transfer the batter evenly into the prepared tin and set aside.
  10. Wash, halve and core the pears. Pat the halves dry. Begin placing them upright into the batter. Start with the two ends and move to the centre spacing each half evenly.
  11. Place the cake tin in the centre of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes.
  12. Meanwhile place almonds in pan and toast on low heat for 10-15 minutes.
  13. Crush the toasted almonds and set aside.
  14. Place sugar and salt for the sauce in a small saucepan on low heat. Once the sugar caramelises and turns an amber colour, add the butter and stir rapidly with a spatula. It will start to splash when the butter hits the caramel so be mindful. Add milk and keep stirring. Once it resembles a smooth sauce, take off the heat and leave to thicken.
  15. Remove cake from the oven and lift the cake out by holding the sides of the overhanging parchment. Leave to cool.
  16. Once the cake has cooled, pour the sauce over and top with toasted almonds.
Maestros Need to Know

*Softened butter in this type of sponge cake recipe is really important because if the butter is too hard won't blend easily with other ingredients while on the other hand if it has reached the point where it looks oily because it's too soft then it won't homogenise properly. 
*When choosing pears for this recipe, try to look for pears that are not too soft or over ripe. Remember that they will soften as they bake so if they are medium-hard that will be perfect.

*When making the caramel, refrain from stirring the sugar while it heats. If you find that the sugar is changing colour unevenly, rather swirl the pot to get some movement going. I say this because caramel is quite sticky and messy to work with, so when making small amounts like this,swirling the pot is more efficient than using a utensil. Once the butter has been added a silicone spatula can be used to mix or alternatively a wooden spoon.

*When crushing the nuts you can use a coffee grinder but be mindful because the nuts can get too fine too quickly. If using a pestle and mortar place a napkin made of fabric, or a kitchen handkerchief inside the mortar to ensure that the nuts don't fly out. Also if you ground spices in the mortar prior, the napkin will ensure that the scents left over from the spices don't infuse with the nuts. Another way to crush the nuts is to place them in a plastic freezer bag, seal the opening and crush with a rolling pin.

*Once the cake has been removed from the oven and you are ready to pour over the sauce, my best advice is to pour the sauce on the cake while it is still sitting on the parchment paper it's been baked in. Whatever sauce drips down the cake and onto the parchment will not be wasted. The parchment can be folded back onto the cake and placed back in the loaf tin. This allows the excess sauce to soak into the cake. This can be done with any leftovers or before slicing the cake to serve.
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