Caramelised Pear and Almond Cake

Pears can be a little tiring. They often seem to go from rock hard to too soft whenever you are not looking. It is so rare to catch them just perfect. This is a great recipe because it doesn’t really matter how hard they are. You just cook them in the caramel for a little longer and it the best pear cake I have ever eaten.

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PEAR AND ALMOND CAKE

Firm Conference pears should work a treat here. Add a glug of Amaretto if you like or a little vanilla extract. You can replace the flour with gluten free flour and a teaspoon of baking powder.

Serves 8

For the caramel

25g Butter

25g Sugar

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened

190g caster sugar

6 pears, firm but not too hard, peeled, cored and quartered

3 eggs

115g ground almonds

115g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease a 20cm diameter, spring-form cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Put a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the sugar. When it starts to melt, stir and cook until a deep golden brown and beginning to smoke. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Stir to dissolve and add the pear quarters and return to a medium heat. Cook the pears in the buttery caramel for five to 10 minutes, until they start to brown and soften (the time taken will vary greatly, depending on how ripe the pears are). Tip into the bottom of your prepared tin.

Put the remaining butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the amaretto or vanilla if using. Add the self-raising flour and almonds and fold in gently (or pulse in the food processor.) Top the pears with the cake mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife pushed into the centre comes out clean.  Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.

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Pear, Blue Cheese, Endive and Watercress Salad with Candied Pecans

Pears are at their best right now and what better way to have them than in this delicious autumnal Pear, Blue Cheese, Endive and Watercress Salad with Candied Pecans. Sweet pear, salty blue cheese, bitter leaves and crunchy pecans – what a great combination.

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Pear, Blue Cheese, Endive and Watercress Salad with Candied Pecans

Few handfuls of watercress

2 heads of chicory, red or white

½ a lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

1 firm pear

Some candied pecans (or walnuts) recipe below

Blue cheese, such as Stilton or Gorgonzola

Good aged syrupy balsamic vinegar

Pick out and discard any tatty watercress leaves, then place into a serving bowl. Trim the bases of the chicory, then slice them and add to the bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice into the jar, removing any pips. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the jar with a pinch of salt. Put the lid securely on the jar and shake well. Have a taste and see whether you think it needs a bit more lemon juice or oil. Dress the watercress and chicory and pile onto a large plate. Cut the pear in half and finely slice, avoiding the core. Scatter with pecans and crumble over the blue cheese. Drizzle over the balsamic and serve.

candied-pecans

Candied Pecans

There are more complicated recipes for Candied Pecans than this, involving egg whites, vanilla and cinnamon, but I think for a salad this recipe is better. You can use walnuts instead.

110g / 1 cup pecan halves

30g / 2 tablespoons butter, salted

30g / 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Melt butter and sugar over medium-high heat. Add pecans and toss to coat. Spread on grease proof paper and toast in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Stir once or twice whilst cooking. Make sure they do not burn.  Allow to cool.

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Christmas Slaw

I accidentally somehow ended up watching a Nigella Christmas special last night. I think she is an intelligent and beautiful woman but she always comes over as somewhat smug and rather revoltingly, overtly sexy for me to watch for very long. It was long enough however, to catch her version of a Christmas Slaw which I thought might be particularly fitting for all you veg box lovers, to use up some of those winter veg. This is a great dish for boxing day with cold meats and chutney. You can add what you like, but I went for a very pleasant combination of celeriac, fennel, pointed cabbage, red cabbage, carrots and pear, which is very attractively colourful as well. Almost jewelled with its striking combination of purple and orange, so bear this in mind when choosing your veg. The spicy, caramelised pecans add a seasonal note. A mandolin is best for the job of quickly shredding your veg, so if you haven’t got a good one, why not treat yourself to one this Christmas. A food processor will not produce such pretty results although I am sure it will taste just as good.

Christmas slaw 2

Christmas Slaw
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 medium fennel, trimmed and very thinly sliced
¼ pointed or savoy cabbage, shredded very thin
¼ red cabbage, shredded very thin
¼ a celeriac, peeled and coarsely grated
1 pear, very finely sliced
Dressing
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp maple syrup
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one orange
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the spiced pecans
120g cashew nuts, roughly chopped (or other toasted nuts)
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp chilli flakes

Heat the oven to 160C/320F.

Mix the nuts with the syrup, the cinnamon, the chilli and a good pinch of salt. Line a baking sheet with grease proof paper and tip on the nuts. Spread out and roast for 10-12 minutes, until golden and crunchy. Stir from time to time to ensure even cooking. Remove and set aside to cool.

Put all the vegetables in a large bowl.

For the dressing, whisk together the mustard, maple syrup, olive oil, orange juice, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and an eighth of a teaspoon of pepper. Pour this over the vegetables and mix well. Add the spiced nuts, stir to combine and serve.

Fennel