Unlike apples and oranges, pears can be a frustrating fruit. It's hard to tell when exactly they should be eaten, and their window of perfect ripeness is small. Who hasn't bought a bowlful of slightly firm pears only to discover, in the words of Simon Hopkinson, that "as if by magic" they "blotch and bloat, their insides turning to a fluffy mass of woolly flesh, bereft of both taste and texture?"
Hopkinson's solution to this pressing pear problem is to always cook with underripe fruit; "an impenetrable pear," he claims, "will always perform." Today's recipe, excerpted from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, is for a Pear and Ginger Cake flavored with almonds; ginger wine; and preserved ginger, which can be found in specialty markets (or make your own).
Sounding a bit like Rachael Ray, Hopkinson says this dessert is "yummo-scrummo beyond belief."
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- For the top:
- 6 tablespoons slightly salted butter
- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons syrup from a jar of preserved ginger
- 3 or 4 large firm pears
- Juice of 1 lemon
- For the cake:
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon softened butter
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 cup self-rising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons ground almonds
- 2 large eggs
- 3-4 tablespoons syrup, once more, from the preserved ginger jar
- 4 knobs preserved ginger, coarsely chopped
- Heavy cream
- Ginger wine
Take a nonstick cake pan (9-10 in x 1 3/4 in), set it over low heat, and put in the butter. Once it starts to melt, move it around the pan, brushing some of it up the sides. Add sugar and the ginger syrup and heat until amalgamated, toffeelike and bubbling slightly. Remove from the heat. Peel, core, and thinly slice the pears, turning them in the lemon juice so they do not discolor. Arrange them in a sunflower effect on the toffee base. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Tip all the cake ingredients—except for the chopped ginger—into a food processor and whiz to smoothness. Tip into a bowl and now stir in the chopped ginger. Pour it over the pears and smooth over the surface. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350ºF. Keep a watch on the surface, as it can start to brown quickly towards the end of the cooking time; if so, cover with a sheet of foil. The cake is cooked when the edges have started to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Test with a skewer, which should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake, place a large plate on top, and—watching out for hot juices—invert the cake. Serve warm, in thick wedges, with lightly sweetened heavy cream that has had a little ginger wine beaten into it.