Newsflash: there are 28 days in February. This shouldn't have come as a surprise, but I had completely not appreciated this fact until the 28th had already arrived. Gazing out the window on the train to London, I realised I was not going to make my self-imposed target of one blog post per month. In my defence, I had a good excuse. Selasi was hosting a one-night-only desserts and cocktails pop-up, which was fantastic. He's a clever sausage. HOWEVER, today I realised that if February wasn't such an awkward blighter of a month, it could have 31 days. In that case, today would be February 31st... So let's run with that, I made my February deadline and have learnt the lesson for March.
This month's recipe is all about winter comfort: a Spiced Pear and Salted Caramel Cake. Whilst the weather here in the UK can't work out whether it wants to be hot or cold, this cake can be enjoyed in either. Originally made for the Duchess of Cornwall (humble brag), I've modified this one to be a less gargantuan 6 inch cake, but you could easily scale the recipe if you wanted a celebration cake.
There is an exciting video collaboration with tutorial coming very soon on this very recipe, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Let me know how you get on and I PROMISE I will do better with my March deadline ;) x
Ingredients - makes a 6 inch cake
For the sponges
3 firm pears
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
210g caster (superfine) sugar
5 medium eggs, at room temperature
250g self-raising flour, plus 6 tbsp extra
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
For the salted caramel buttercream
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
400g icing (confectioners) sugar
1 tbsp whole milk
½ tsp white wine vinegar (or more, depending on your taste)
80g salted caramel (shop bought or try this one)
For the topping
50g salted caramel
3 6” loose-bottomed cake tins (if you have fewer tins just do this in batches)
Small offset palette knife
Mandoline (makes slicing the pears so much easier)
Piping bags (optional)
Star Piping Nozzle (optional)
Lightly grease each tin with a little butter and line the bases with circles of non-stick parchment paper. For the sides, add a tablespoon of flour to each greased tin and rotate the tin to cover the sides with a light dusting of flour. Shake out the excess. (I find this gives cleaner sides than a cake using parchment around the outside). Preheat the oven to fan 170C
Peel and core the pears and slice into rings (the hole formed by removing the core) using a mandolin or very carefully using a sharp knife, into roughly 3mm slices. Put the slices on a few sheets of kitchen paper to absorb excess moisture then toss them with 3tbsp of flour in a large bowl. Divide into 3 equal portions.
For the sponges, in a stand mixer add the soft butter and caster sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Best to use the beater attachment (or you can do this with an electric hand whisk). This will take around 5 minutes, make sure to regularly scrape down the bowl and beater. The mix should be almost white in colour. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well in between. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, mixed spice, baking powder and salt. Whisk together until uniform then sieve into the wet mix. Briefly mix until combined, then fold together with a silicone spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.
Divide your batter: The first step is to divide your batter into 3 equal portions, you can either do this by eye or weigh it. To weigh, put a large bowl on a digital scale and zero it. Add all the batter and note the number on the scales. Divide this by 3 to get the batter per tin. Get 3 small bowls, add them onto the scales and zero, as before, and weigh out your target number for each. gently fold the mix together.
Time for pre-baking assembly. You should have 3 lots of flour-coated pear slices and 3 small batches of cake batter. For each baking tin: Spread a thin layer of the batter on the bottom of the tin, having a small offset spatula makes this a lot easier. Scatter over half of one of the batches of pear slices. Add half of the remaining portion of batter over the top and spread to cover the pears. Add the remaining pears and finish with the remaining batter. Smooth until level. Repeat for the other 2 tins. Honestly, this step is worth your patience for a beautifully layered cake!
Bake the sponges for 30-35 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven. They should be springy to the touch, light golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
For the buttercream, add the butter to a stand mixer and beat on high speed until light and fluffy (about 5 mins). Into a large bowl, sieve the icing sugar to remove any lumps. With the mixer on medium speed, add the icing sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each tablespoon is absorbed before adding the next amount. This may seem a bit painstaking but will help achieve a smooth buttercream.
Once all the icing sugar is added, whack the mixer up to high speed and beat for a few minutes until smooth. Add the milk, ½ tsp vinegar and salted caramel and beat briefly to combine. At this point, taste your icing. Depending on your sweet tooth, you may want to add an extra ½ tsp (or more) of vinegar to make it less cloying, or you can leave it as is. Taste it and try!
Once the sponges are baked, leave them for 5 minutes then remove from their tins. Level the top of each cake using a bread knife (or cake leveler if you’ve got all the gear) and leave on a cooling rack to cool completely.
To assemble the cake, transfer the buttercream to a piping bag with a small round nozzle (or cut a 1cm hole in the bottom of your piping bag) and pipe a little on a cake board or cake stand to secure your first layer of cake, cut side up. Pipe a spiral of buttercream and spread level using a palette knife. Repeat for the remaining 2 layers of cake, making sure the top layer is cut side down to give you a sharp top edge of the cake.
Pipe rosettes around the top of the cake using the leftover buttercream. Make sure to not leave any gaps in the perimeter. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to firm up. Heat the remaining salted caramel in a microwave until runny enough to pour. Flood the top with the salted caramel and allow to set before serving.Into a large bowl, add the flour and the diced chilled butter. If using a food processor, blitz briefly until it resembles breadcrumbs. If by hand, gently rub the mix between your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs, keep an eye out for any large chunks of butter and don’t handle the mix for too long - we want to keep it cool.