Brown Sugar Sponge with Caramel Pears (Or – the cake that nearly burned down my kitchen)

Hooray for Winter! Before I started a concerted effort to use seasonal fruit ad veg, I never realised how many wonderful fruits are in season in Winter. I guess there are some good things about Winter after all… apart from flannel sheets, wood fires, hot dinners, hot lunches, hot chocolates, baked goods, pies, hot desserts, snuggles, cuddles… ok… there are LOTS of good things about Winter. This post has a point, I promise!

Corella Pears!

Im a big fan of the green Packham Pears (spelling?) but I have never been bothered to try any of the other types. So when I saw the recipe for Brown Sugar Sponge with Caramel Pears on the cover of this months Gourmet Traveller that was celebrating the season of the Corella Pear, I thought it was as good an excuse as any to try a different type of pear. Who could resist the serene blush of the Corella Pear? The firm flesh and sweet juice is definitely swoon worthy.

The cake turned out beautifully, and tasted delicious. However, if you have seen the cover of the magazine, you will notice that I made mine half as big. When I was first looking at the recipe, I thought that the four layers were made by making two cakes and cutting them in half. I couldn’t believe it when I realised that this recipe requires you to make FOUR whole cakes that are stacked on top of each other. To appease my ever expanding waistline (sigh.) I decided to halve the recipe and make only two layers.

It turned out quite prettily, it tasted wonderful, so how did this cake nearly spell the end of my kitchen exploits forever?

Firstly, I must say that there was nothing wrong with the cake. In fact, it was one of the most delicious sponges I’ve ever tasted. It was light and fluffy but with a nice depth of flavour that I did not expect. It did fall a little after I took it out of the oven which was a bit disappointing. The top became all wrinkly which wasn’t particularly appealing. But I still had a few tricks up my sleeve and wasn’t going to let a few wrinkles get in my way!

It was the syrup for the Caramelised Pears that almost did me in. It was a beautiful, fragrant syrup with the juice of lemons and blood oranges as well as star anise and cinnamon sticks. I poached the pears in the syrup and then it was time to reduce the liquid for the carmel to be drizzled over the top of the cake. This caramel, was my Waterloo.

I’ve never been great with numbers. The other day, while trying to illustrate a point to one of my classes, I told them that 2+2 didn’t equal 4. And didn’t realise my mistake until one of them told me. So I was all set to halve the ingredients for this liquid as I had halved everything else for this cake. Then I got cocky. I had bought 6 large pears because I couldn’t be bothered to buy 12 small ones and I thought, well, even though I have bought half as many pears, they are twice as big and I should therefore make the full amount of syrup.

I followed the recipe to the letter and transferred the liquid to a high sided frying pan to reduce on a medium high heat for half an hour. Forty five minutes later I was still staring at the syrup that was stubbornly refusing to reduce. I turned the heat up, and began pottering around the kitchen. The logic I was using was that whenever a pot boils over on the stove, I hear it in time due to the sizzling of the water on the hot plate, so therefore if the syrup began to boil over I would hear the rolling boil and the sizzling of the syrup right? Wrong.

Drip, drip, drip, went the boiling syrup over the laminate bench tops onto the polished floorboards. I rushed over to lift the frying pan up off the electric stove and a column of flame shot up from beneath it! I had the sense of mind not to throw the nearest tea towel onto the fire, but I had NO idea what else I should do. In an increasing state of panic as the flames rose higher I started yelling and my amazing sister ran and got a heavy bath towel to smother the flames.

The bench tops were saved, the floor was saved but my poor stove top is still covered with blistered, charred, sugary residue. And the caramel wasn’t all that nice when I finished it the next day.

The caramel ended up being more of a syrup but at least it still looked good!

As I had a few slices of pear left over, I layered them between the two cakes along with a layer of vanilla whipped cream

My oh my, this cake was worth the effort!

So, my lovelies, what have been your kitchen disasters? Have you set anything on fire? And do you have any suggestions for how to save my poor hot plate?!

Brown Sugar Sponge with Caramel Pears – Adapted from the August edition of Gourmet Traveller

Brown Sugar Sponge – Ingredients

6 eggs

80g brown sugar

80g caster sugar

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1/8 tsp baking powder

150g plain flour, triple sieved

60g melted butter – cooled slightly

Brown Sugar Sponge – Method

1. Whisk eggs, sugars and vanilla seeds on a high speed until the mixture is tripled in volume and holds a trail (if you find that your mixture is not thickening, try whisking it over a double boiler, this always works for me!)

2. Transfer to a large bowl and sift flour and baking powder in two batches and fold in gently

3. Fold in butter

4. Divide among two greased 20cm cake tins lined with baking paper

5. Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 15-20 mins or until the cakes are dark golden and the centres spring back from pressed

Caramel Pears – Ingredients (This is for the whole amount of syrup, halve or leave as you desire)

750g caster sugar

Juice and rind of 1 1/2 lemon and 1 1/2 oranges (I used a blood orange and it was BEAUTIFUL!)

2 Cinnamon quills

2 Star anise

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

10 small or 5-6 large Corella Pears, peeled, halved, cored (can cut them into smaller slices)

90ml pouring cream

30g butter

Caramel Pears – Method

1. Combine sugar, rinds, juices, spices, vanilla bean and seeds and 1 litre of water in a large saucepan and stir over a medium high heat until sugar dissolves

2. Add pears a cover closely with a round of baking paper and weight with a plate. Bring to a simmer

3. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the pears are tender (20-25 mins)

4. Remove pears from the liquid and set aside

5. Strain the liquid into a large deep sided frying pan and simmer over a medium high heat until the mixture reduces to your liking (If you are looking at the picture on the front cover of the magazine, that must have taken them HOURS of reducing to get that consistency, just giving you the heads up)

6. At this point you can add 120ml of dessert wine, I didnt and my syrup still tasted pretty damn good

7. Ad cream and butter and stir until combined

8. Add pears to pan and cook, spooning caramel over the pears until they are glazed, set aside

Assembly

I made a vanilla bean whipped cream by scraping the seeds of one vanilla bean into some cream them whipping to a light consistency. I layered half the pear slices over the top of one cake then spread the cream over the top. On top of that I placed the second cake then arranged slices of pears over the top. I poured syrup (it didn’t really turn into a caramel) over the top and let it drizzle down the side. If you made the full batch of syrup you will have a lot left over and you can serve this with slices of the cake. Enjoy!


Jamie Oliver’s Bloomin’ Brilliant Brownies

So my resolution to cook more things without chocolate was short lived. Inspired by this thread I thought that the best way to celebrate the end of my (brief) Chocolate Drought was with dense, fudgey brownies. Yummo! I hear you say, and right you are. The title is no overstatement, these babies are BRILLIANT! Just the thing for a chilly Winter’s day.

Be warned, there is a lot of butter in this recipe. But if my scale says ‘0’ then… it cant be that much can it?

True to form, I doubled slightly upped the chocolate dose

Then licked the bowl. Did you expect any less?

I added 5 mins to the cooking time because I used a smaller tin so I was very worried when I took my brownies out and they were quite firm. The last few batches of brownies I had cooked were too dry and I thought I had overcooked these too

Then the top sank and I knew I was in the clear!

mmmmmmmm fudgey…

Now I felt a bit like Nigella when I was eating these. They were so gooey and fudgey that I wanted to roll around on the floor in ecstacy. I always thought her moaning was a little over the top, but if she enjoys eating all her food as much as I enjoyed eating these, I absolutely understand!

The recipe I used was Jamie Oliver’s Bloomin’ Brilliant Brownies found HERE

I did change the nuts and cherries for milk and white chocolate chips and used a 20cm tin because I was lacking a larger tin but they were the only changes I made.

So, my lovelies, what is your favourite chocolate recipe?

There’s been a murder in my kitchen…

The victim? Blood Oranges.

Scalped

Sliced

and disemboweled.

All in the name of dessert.

But oh my, it was a good dessert! ThisĀ Blood Orange and Vanilla Syrup Cake was another experiment with seasonal winter fruits. I had been eyeing it off in my Seasons cookbook by Donna Hay since the mothership bought it for me last Christmas. As my weakness for all things citrusy and syrupy have been well documented on this blog, this cake was a natural progression from the basic syrup cake to a prettier, deeper flavoured dish.

Easy to prepare, this cake didn’t take long to cook and the only difficulty I had was getting the blood orange stains out of my chopping board! I didn’t realise that the gorgeous deep red juice would be so stubborn! I shook my fist at it. Then let the mothership shoot her tractorbeam of cleanliness at it.

I broke out my bundt pan for this baby

Tah Dah! Golden, puffy goodness!

Note the abundance of progress shots. The deep red of the blood oranges was so beautiful that I got on a bit of a photo taking roll! I just wish that practise made perfect in this case.

Finally, I have a pretty product to photograph. Excitement to the max.

Blood Orange and Vanilla Syrup Cake – Adapted from Seasons by Donna Hay

Ingredients – Topping

1 cup (220g) caster sugar

1/2 cup (125ml) water

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

3 Blood Oranges, thinly sliced

Method – Topping

1. Place sugar, water and vanilla in a frying pan over medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved

2. Add orange slices and simmer for 10-15 mins or until the orange is soft. Remove from heat and set aside

Ingredients – Cake

4 eggs

1 cup (220g) caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup (150g) self raising flour

150g butter

1 cup (120g) almond meal

Method – Cake

1. Place eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until the mixture is thick, pale and triples in size (8-10 min)

2. Sift the flour over the egg mixture and fold through

3. Melt the butter and fold through the cake batter along with the almond meal

4. Line the bottom of a cake tin with the orange slices and remaining syrup. If you are using a spring form tin you might want to wrap your tin in aluminium foil or place a baking tray on the shelf below in the oven in case of any leakage

5. Pour batter over orange slices

6. Bake at 160 degrees celsius for 40 mins or until golden and firm. (I took mine out after about 30 mins)

7. Turn out onto a platter to serve with cream or ice cream.

Crispy, Buttery Golden, Gooey Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is one of those dishes I was always meaning to cook but never seemed to get around to. It seems easy so it goes into that i’ll-cook-it-when-i-cant-be-bothered-cooking-anything-else category. Imagine my surprise when I found the recipe in the MasterChef Season One cookbook and read the comments that “it was a high-risk dish that could go wrong right up to the last minute”. Well, that sure sparked my competative nature and of course I had to try it! How could something that seemed so simple be tricky enough to be in a MasterChef pressure test?

The short answer: it wasnt…

So with my Sous Chef on hand and recent inspiration from the gorgeous French Wench, I set about cooking this wonderfully caramely, deliciously gooey dessert. It is a very straightforward recipe and apart from the stubborn sugar taking forever to melt, there were no real difficulties. Other than my woeful photography that absolutely does not do this dish justice. Please forgive me!

I love the feeling you get when the pastry puffs and goes golden in the oven

Other than making the caramel, there really are no elements to this recipe that anyone should have difficulty with. As long as you can peel and core an apple and cut a circle of pastry, you’re fine. Just do everything step by step and sit back to watch the magic happen!

Yes, I know I totally dropped the ball in the presentation department. But, as Gary would say (tongue in cheek) “its rustic and therefore excuses any mistakes I may make”! It really is the loveliest winer dessert and I am kicking myself that I never tried this recipe earlier. Moreso when I realised that im possibly the only person on the planet who has never tried to cook this. Shame on me!

Yes, I hear you, less self-flagellation more cream!

So my lovelies, what is the recipe that you wish you had tried earlier?

Tarte Tatin Recipe – From the MasterChef Australia Cookbook Volume One

Ingredients

3 Golden Delicious apples

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar

1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry

20 g unsalted butter

Method

1. Peel the apples and cut into quarters being careful to remove the cores. toss in a bowl with the lemon juice and 1 tbsp of the sugar

2. Cut the pastry into a round slightly larger than a 20cm frying pan and prick with a fork

3. Melt the butter in your frying pan (with an oven proof handle) over medium high heat and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Cook until a rich caramel forms (keep watching VERY closely to make sure it doesn’t burn!)

4. Arrange the apple quarters in a circular pattern in the pan with the rounded side down. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 mins or until the caramel begins bubbling up in the pan. Shake the pan every now and then to prevent parts from burning.

5. Lay the pastry over the apples and tuck in the overhanging edge. Place the pan into the oven at 200 degrees celsius and cook for around 25 mins or until the pastry is puffed and golden.

6. Stand the tarte in the pan for 10 mins before carefully turning it out onto a serving plate. Serve with cream!