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


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!

Cupcake Birthday Presents!

Sometimes it feels like everyone I know is born in June and July. Not that im complaining, I love birthdays! What better time to catch up with old friends, get to know new friends, eat alot of some cake and let your hair down. Because im pretty useless at buying gifts, I decided to make people birthday presents this year. Jungle cake for Ginger Ninja was phase one of operation Edible Gifts. This was phase two.

The wonderful birthday girl Mrs S isn’t a great fan of chocolate so I had to put my thinking cap on. You may have gained an inkling as to my lifelong love affair with chocolate, and it wasn’t easy to find a good safe alternate cupcake flavour. I wasn’t adventurous enough to try some of the crazier flavours so, after consulting the demi-gods of cooking (otherwise known as Australian Women’s Weekly) I settled on orange buttercake with orange buttercream icing.

Although I was a bit naughty and didn’t do a test before baking the real thing, they came out perfectly! Hooray! They were super fluffy, lightly orangey and flat enough to accommodate the decorating ideas I had in mind. Which were…

Penguins! Well, it is winter after all, and winter is penguin season!

Teddy Bears (for cuddleability) and Rubber Duckies!

And of course, what is a birthday without a few presents?

Or a tower of presents!

This was the first time I had used rolled fondant to decorate the whole tops of cupcakes and I think it went pretty well. Of course, I had a lot of help from the fantastic Planet Cake Cake Decorating Book and im no stranger to fondant animals. Im looking forward to making more of these babies for future birthdays!

So, my lovelies, what is your take on edible gifts?

p.s. like my new microplane zester? It was amazing! No bitter white pith for me!

But there are a few bald oranges in my house now… sorry Mr Orange…

Orange Buttercake Cupcake Recipe – From the Australian Women’s Weekly Cupcakes Cookbook


90g butter

90g cream cheese

2 tsp finely grated orange rind

2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup (50g) self raising flour

1/2 cup (75g) plain flour


1. Beat butter, cheese, rind, sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until light and fluffy

2. Mix in flours until just combined

3. Divide mix among patty pans and smooth the surface of the batter

4. Bake for 20 mins at 160 decrees celsius (for a fan forced oven)

Orange Buttercream Icing Recipe – From the Australian Women’s Weekly Cupcakes Cookbook


90g butter

1/4 tsp orange essence (I used orange blossom water and it gave a nice light orangey taste, you  might want to use a little more than 1/4 tsp though)

1 cup (160g) icing sugar

1 tbsp milk


1. Beat butter and essence until light and fluffy

2. Beat in sifted icing sugar and milk

3. If icing is too thick, add a little more milk

4. Ice your cupcakes quickly, as my icing seemed to harden quite quickly. Im not sure if that was the result of using more orange blossom water or if that would happen with orange essence as well. You have been warned!

Well Dressed Cupcakes

They broke the mould when the made my grandpa. He was a man who was intensely loving and my moral compass for most of my adolescent and adult life. My grandpa was also the sharpest dressed man i’ve ever known. He was a man who always had several suits already hung up in his wardrobe along with matching shirt, tie and pocket hankie. He had a stack of hats up to my waist (a different one for every possible occasion) and he even changed his shoelaces according to the seasons. According to my Great Auntie, when he had one of his strokes many many years ago, he wouldn’t let my grandma call the ambulance until he had put his shoes on. Of course, you couldn’t go to emergency with bare feet!

He was the strongest person i’ve ever known, serving in World War Two, living through several strokes and caring for himself for the past ten years despite being paralysed down one side of his body and suffering from macular degeneration. All through this, he never left his house without first donning a clean suit with freshly polished shoes and a carefully chosen tie, hankie and hat combination. Even people at the bank and the post office remarked to me about what a gentleman he was and how he never came in without being immaculately dressed. He died last year, and although I remember him every day, I wanted to do something special to remember him. I know he would have loved these.

Some well dressed cupcakes!

He was man enough to wear pink!

Every man looks good in blue

Every man needs a black tie for special occasions.

So thats a little piece of my heart sent out into the universe. These are just a small tribute to a man who genuinely brightened up so many people’s lives.

Donna Hay, I love you…

After making a few different chocolate cakes and realising that none of them were any good, I thought I would make one last attempt. Enter – Donna Hay Magazine. I bought this magazine the other day after being droolingly drawn to the enormous chocolate cake gracing its front cover. This Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake would be the basis for the finally finished birthday cake for the Ginger Ninja.

I decided to do a test run on friday to make sure that it wasn’t another dud recipe. Worry I need not. It. Was. Amazing. So amazing that when my mum came home she said “oh….  wouldnt it be nice if there was one for me…” and, well, how could I resist? So after baking another cake and another batch of cupcakes, I have decided that the richness, glossiness, tastiness and sheer consistency of this recipe may have earned it the crown of Best Chocolate Cake Ever. Really. Donna Hay… amazing.

So without further ado, here are pictures of the completed African Jungle Cake! Hooray! P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY NINJA!

I decided to make the cake like a bunch of trees, so the figures on top are sitting in the branches! A bit rough, but you get the idea…

And here are a couple of pics of the cupcakes and their mini animals!

Hooray for mini African animals!

Have you met Lenny the Lion?

So my lovelies,  what is the best birthday cake you have made for someone or someone has made for you? I would love to know!

Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake

Recipe – From Donna Hay Magazine


1 cup (250ml) water

125g butter

1/3 cup (35g) cocoa

2 cups (300g) plain flour

1 tsp bi-carb soda

2 cups (440g) caster sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup (125ml) buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract


1. Place water, butter and cocoa in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until the butter has completely melted and the mixture is smooth

2. Place flour, bi-carb and sugar in a bowl, and whisk in the cocoa mixture

3. Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and mix until smooth

4. Divide the mixture between two 18cm round cake tins and bake for 40-45 mins at 160 degrees celsius (I took all my cakes out at right on the 40 min mark but it might vary depending on your oven)

NOTE: you can alternatively make these as cupcakes, they will make around 18-20 depending on how big your patty pans are and how full you want them to be. They will still be AMAZING!

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting – from Donna Hay Magazine


100g butter

500g cream cheese

2 cups (320g icing sugar)

1/2 cup (50g) cocoa


1. Beat butter and cream cheese until pale and creamy

2. Add the icing sugar an cocoa and beat for 6-8 minutes until light and fluffy

3. Ice your damn cake!

NOTE: If you want to make your icing different colours, substitute the cocoa for another 1/2 cup of icing sugar then add the colour you require. This is how I did the green icing on top of the cake above