Please excuse me for the autumnal tribute song I am about to warble. Like a fawning fan-girl, I simply can’t get enough of it. Even though autumn still hasn’t quite started here in Manchester – by which I mean the leaves are on the cusp of yellow-gold and the temperature isn’t low enough for me to swap my raincoat for something woolly – at least there is no rain and that is, currently, enough for me. Instead the overcast days are still and grey, and before you know it night has set, inky and dark, smothering the sky like the depths of a black hole. It is like any other season, I suppose, that our diets naturally rise and fall with the tides. With this oh-so-slow change I’ve been craving sticky and stodgy and treacly. The darker and richer the better. Soft fruit, tender and meltingly soft, falling to pieces at a mere touch, scooped up with a thick, glossy shroud of caramel. Lucky for me, autumn willingly serves up my cravings on a platter.
My only thought for this last week has been pears. Pears with treacle. That stray tin at the back of the cupboard – bought for something else no doubt stodgy and wonderful months ago – needs to be used for something guys, I can’t just keep staring at it. So to Google I fled and was quickly overwhelmed with various treacly traybakes stuffed with spices, to which I would add sticky caramelised pears. Excitedly, I settled on a Mary Berry masterpiece – soft squares of sponge speckled with stem ginger. To this I threw in diced pear which I had gently softened in sticky caramel. Forty-five minutes later a vast and springy cake emerged from the oven, puffed up like a cloud. As your very willing guinea pig I turned it out, the base juicy with pear chunks, and sliced out large pieces. It was then, however, that I realised this cake had missed its mark. It was too soft and pillowy, too sweet without the rich depth of treacle (surprising, considering how much treacle I poured in), and the caramelised pears were lost. I still craved that sticky, squidginess, the stodge offset by succulent pears and a potent dose of spice.
I scurried back to the drawing board, cravings reaching fever pitch. The first cake was divided into slices and frozen so there was room for another. (As an aside, I hope this kind of behaviour doesn’t occur with other firsts and seconds, such as ones children. Now I feel rather guilty to the first cake. I’ll still eat you!) The second attempt, however, is exceptional. The crumb is dense and coarse from the ground almonds which has absorbed all the spice, ginger and treacle like a sticky sponge, and caramelised at the edge to create a chewy crust. The pears are slippery with their syrupy juices, their sweetness balancing the fiery flavour of ginger. The perfect cake for an autumn evening, and just the thing to satisfy my cravings.
Sticky pear and treacle cake
Adapted from Rose Prince’s recipe
180g soft brown sugar plus 2tbsp
180g unsalted butter
90g golden syrup
90g black treacle
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground black pepper
270g ground almonds
90g plain flour
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1in piece of fresh ginger
30g crystalised ginger
100g caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 170C/338F. Grease a 9in/20cm round or square cake tin with butter, line with greaseproof, then butter again generously. Sprinkle the buttered base with the 2tbsp brown sugar. Peel and halve the pears and lay, cut side down, on the sugar.
- In a saucepan melt the butter with the rest of the sugar, golden syrup and treacle. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes then leave to cool for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put the ground almonds in a mixing bowl and sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix together. Finely grate the ginger. Beat the eggs in another small bowl.
- Once the treacly syrup has cooled add the spices and beaten eggs, and stir well to combine. Pour it into the ground almond mixture, add the fresh and crystallised gingers, and stir together.
- Tip the batter into the tin over the pears, smooth the surface and slide into the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top of the cake springs back when you press it, and a skewer comes away clean.
- Allow to cool slightly then tip out the cake and peel away the greaseproof. Set a pan with the caster sugar and water over high heat, bring to the boil and darken to a caramel. Once it is deep amber remove from the heat and brush gently over the pears so they are covered with sticky caramel. The caramel with continue to cook off the heat so be careful it isn’t too dark and beginning to burn.
- Leave to cool then slice into thick chunks and serve.