Monday, September 12, 2011

Pear and Almond Cake

Last week started out so well. I spent the weekend away with a group of women performing a rite of passage for a cherished thirteen year old; I found a snakes head fritillary at a country market; I bought the most beautiful tea cosy in the world; then I came home.

And the world went to pieces. I learned that a friend’s mother died; she needs her mother more than most people need their mothers; this death is appalling and not to be borne; and yet it must be borne. Meanwhile, it was the anniversary of my own mother’s death; I heard some difficult news from an old friend; the kids had threadworm; and a few other things went so deeply, sharply wrong that I was given Veuve Cliquot and sent flowers from Berlin. The extraordinary extravagance of these actions suggests just how pear-shaped my week turned: believe me, I am not in the habit of drinking French champagne nor of indulging in massive bunches of tulips.

But I’m tired of illness and death and worry and care; I’ve had too much of it. So instead of wallowing, I shed a few tears then turned my attention to cake. When life feels impossible, I figure one may as well have something decent to nibble on.

I needed an easy cake that could be whizzed in the food processor with very little effort from me. Preferably it would use up more than a few eggs since our chooks just won’t stop laying (do Isa Browns ever moult?!), and possibly too the pears from our tree that I stewed back in January with a good shake of cinnamon and which have been gathering permafrost in our freezer ever since.

So I went to the recipe books and flicked until I found what I was hoping for. And what a beauty it is! I varied Nigella's recipe for damp apple and almond cake, itself a variation on Claudia Roden’s classic orange and almond cake, by changing the fruit once more from apples to pears. And when I took a bite I realised instantly that it was quite possibly the best cake I have made in a long lifetime of baking. All this for a new recipe on a Tuesday afternoon, shoved carelessly in the oven while I crooked a phone on my shoulder and wept.

Tulips and champagne; pear cake and pain; and a bucketload of tears. What a week.

Pear and Almond Cake

- 8 eggs
- 325g ground almonds
- 375g or so stewed pears with cinnamon
- 275g golden caster sugar
- a squeeze of lemon
- 40g flaked almonds

Grease and line a 25cm spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Place everything bar the flaked almonds into a food processor, and whizz until you have a batter. Pour the resulting goop into the pan. Sprinkle with flaked almonds. Slip into the oven.

Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin on a baking rack. Eat plain for afternoon tea or any time you need; it is also lovely with double cream.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson in her terrific book, Feast: Food that celebrates life, itself a variation on Claudia Roden’s orange and almond cake in her classic, The Book of Middle Eastern Food. Incidentally, between eggs, pears and almonds from our garden, and lemons from over the road, this could be a very economical cake; sadly, I was too lazy to grind my own almonds.

(Local: almonds, pears, eggs, lemon. Not so local: cinnamon, sugar (fair trade).)

Feast: Food that celebrates life The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

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