Heart via stomach

I test out a lot of my baking on Andrew’s work colleagues. He works in an office full of hungry people who are more than happy to be fed. Usual practice is that he puts the goodies out on the bench in the lunch room mid-morning and most people will tuck in after lunch. Andrew collects the empty container at the end of the day along with any feedback.

A few Mondays ago I sent Andrew in with a cake I had tried out for the first time. There was a little note taped to the lid of the tin advising the cake is best eaten warm with a spot of cream. He put the cake out in the lunch room mid morning per normal practice.

Word spread about this cake. Full grown men were seen running to the lunch room to make sure they didn’t miss out on a piece. The whole cake was finished by 11.30am and I received an email from Andrew’s boss advising me that the latest cake was a masterpiece!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Is there someone you are trying to woo? Someone whose attention you are trying to get? Then do it with this cake! (or the Rolls Royce of Chocolate Chip Cookies because they earned me a marriage proposal from one of his colleagues!).

It is a perfect cake for winter as it is best eaten warm. Serve it with double or clotted cream which will cut through the sweetness of the maple syrup just right.

The crumb is light, soft and tinged with the taste of Christmas! I used pure vanilla bean paste rather than vanilla essence or extract. It makes a big difference to the taste and I love the little specks of the black vanilla bean seeds through the light cream of the crumb. I also tend to be a little heavy handed on the vanilla, adding a solid one to two teaspoons when the recipe only called for 1/2 teaspoon.

Maple-Walnut Pear Cake
From Ready For Dessert, David Lebovitz

1/3 cup (80ml) maple syrup
1/4 cup (60g) packed dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup (50g) walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 ripe Bosc or other firm pears (about 570g quartered, cored and cut lengthwise, the recipe says to peel them but I dont)

11/2 cups (210 g) all-purpose plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
115g of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use pure vanilla bean paste and favour Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, Inc)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (125ml) of whole milk

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Toast the walnuts in a light pan over medium heat for around 1 minute, shaking the pan every 15 seconds. Allow to cool and then coarsely chop.

Prepare the pears. Remove the cores, quarter them and then cut them lengthwise about 0.2-inches (0.5cm) thick.

Combine the maple syrup and 1/4 cup (60g) of light brown sugar in a 9-inch (23cm) round cake tin or cast iron skillet. Set it directly on the stove top on a low heat until the mixture begins to bubble and then allow it to simmer gently for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Ensure the heat is low as it is easy to burn the mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and scatter the walnuts over the maple mixture lightly pressing them in. Be careful not to touch the syrup so as not to burn yourself. Arrange the pear slices over the walnuts in the tin in an over lapping pin wheel pattern. Set aside.

To make the batter whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat together the butter, granulated sugar and 1/4 cup (60g) light brown sugar on medium speed until the mixture is light, fluffy and creamy in colour. This should take about 3-5 minutes.

Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, beating for at least 30 seconds after each addition until completely incorporated. I am told this will provide the cake with more structure during baking. Gradually mix in half of the flour mixture on low speed, increasing to medium once the flour has been sufficiently incorporated. Stir in the milk followed by the rest of the flour mixture until just combined.

Carefully scrape the batter over the pears taking care not to disturb them and level the top. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or when tested with a skewer it comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool for 15 minutes and then run a knife around the edge of the tin. Invert a plate over the tin and wearing oven mitts grasp both the tin and the plate, turning them over together. Sometimes the maple will cause the walnuts to stick to the tin, if this happens just loosen them carefully with a fork and return them to the cake (not your mouth!).

It is important to unmold the cake while it is still warm otherwise the maple walnut topping will set onto the bottom of the cake tin. More importantly, this cake is BEST when served warm with double or clotted cream! It will keep for around 2 days at room temperature.

Yield: 10-12 slices depending on how generous you are with each cut!

Asides … apartment farming
We did some reading and learnt that after a tomato plant flowers, provided it was pollinated, you should see fruit develop anywhere from 5-30 days.

Last week I walked into the lounge room to find Andrew with the glass sliding doors open, bending over the tomato plants giggling like a 15 year old boy who has just been lucky enough to see a pair of boobs.

So I (stupidly) asked “Andrew, what are you doing?”

He turns, and with his giant and beautiful grin plastered across his face says “Making babies”.

If you have a lack of birds and insects to help out, gently shaking the stalks of the plant can help with pollination… I shouldn’t have asked.