I’ve enjoyed a few things from other people’s blogs recently, and these two recipes are definite keepers.
First, Fiona’s Belgian pears. I made a mental note to try these ages ago, prompted by the rave reviews on her blog. When I looked more closely, the ingredients and method looked really strange — cook pears in vinegar and sugar for six hours??? Wouldn’t they be reduced to mush? But I have absolute faith in Fiona’s tried and tested recipes, so small pears from the market at 90 centimes a kilo seemed a good opportunity to try it. They sat at a bare whisper of a simmer on top of the woodburner, and the small amount of vinegary liquid slowly transmuted into a quantity of mahogany coloured syrup. After five hours, we tentatively tried a couple of the very soft pears with a little of the liquid and a blob of crème fraîche. Wow, they were good! As Fiona says, they taste alcoholic even though they are not. And they look most impressive bottled — they would make lovely Christmas gifts.
Although I hesitate to vary from Fiona’s tried and tested recipes, to be honest (having done two batches now) I think you could cook them for less time. You have to handle them very, very carefully when bottling because they are so soft after six hours, even at an almost invisible simmer. The necessary juice is produced during the first three hours’ cooking. So I think the uncovered simmering could easily be reduced to two hours without detracting from the final result.
Next up, the weekly conundrum of the pumpkin in the veggie box. The Open University group of foodies came up with loads of ideas, and one of them caused me to google “pumpkin and carrot cake”, which brought me here. Yes! My somewhat amended recipe follows — no photo because the light wasn’t good and the icing was a bit of a disaster. But you can always look at the photos on Meeta’s post. The cake is dense, with a lovely spicy flavour, and a dark brown colour from the sugar. Good with or without the frosting. Oh, and if you don’t have any pumpkin I am sure it would be just as good with carrots alone.
I made a half-sized cake in a 22cm x 18cm tin, so quantities are adjusted accordingly.
Note: for a dairy-free version, you could probably replace the butter with vegetable oil. Or, I recently discovered almond puree (sold in jars in wholefood shops), which has the consistency of peanut butter and is a good butter substitute for cakes — with the plus of added almond flavour. For this recipe, I would use half and half almond puree and oil, because the puree would be too solid on its own I think.
150 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
150 g soft brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed ground spices of your choice — I used equal quantities of ginger, cinnamon, and 4-épices
90 g dried or candied fruit (I used finely diced candied orange and lemon peel and a few dried cranberries)
100 g butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
zest of 1/2 an orange
juice of 1/4 of an orange (you’ll use the rest in the frosting)
160 g butternut squash or any other pumpkin, grated
90 g carrots, grated
The cake is easy to make. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Brush the tin with a little vegetable oil, then line it with baking parchment.
Put all the dry ingredients, including the dried fruit, in a large bowl and blend with a whisk.
Whisk the beaten eggs into the melted butter, then stir in the orange zest and juice (keep the rest of the zest and juice for the frosting). Beat the egg mixture into the flour mixture to make a thick batter. Fold the grated carrots and pumpkin into the batter.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 to 45 minutes (times depend on your oven and how wet the pumpkin is — mine took a good 45 minutes even though my tin was smaller than Meeta’s). The top of the cake should be dark gold and springy to the touch — test with a skewer or toothpick if you are not sure.
Cool the cake in the tin for about 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack, remove paper, and allow to cool completely before icing.
Cream cheese frosting
I used Meeta’s recipe, but it was a bit of a disaster. Even after a night in the fridge, it was really runny and certainly wouldn’t stand in peaks. I think my cream cheese must be different from hers (I used St-Moret). So here’s an adapted version of my usual cream cheese frosting.
60 g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tbs orange juice
zest of 1/2 an orange, finely grated
75 g icing sugar
120 g mascarpone or cream cheese
Just beat all the ingredients together and chill in the fridge for half an hour before using.
Once done, store the cake in the fridge, but remove about 10 minutes before serving.