Now that the dust of Christmas has settled, and we are all getting on (or not) with January, I bring you a cake requires a certain amount of time and faffing in the kitchen. Don’t let this put you off. This time of year, it’s crucial to have some strategies in place to avoid those tedious ‘New Year Projects’, and I guarantee that the strategic wafting of cake before those around you is one such strategy that will absolve you entirely of participation in such projects – for an afternoon at least.The Husband's current project is "The Moving of The Greenhouse". Do you see what I mean? This doesn't just involve the physical act of relocating a structure from one area of the garden to another. In order to move the greenhouse, the new site requires to be prepared. Concrete is involved. And straight lines. This is not an area where I am at all qualified, or otherwise competent, nor am I a particularly enthusiastic participant, although I am more than happy to consume the eventual rewards of this endeavour - by moving the greenhouse to the new position, it will benefit from more sun for longer in the year thus extending its usefulness for growing things. Things which I can eventually cook with.
Cake on the other hand? Well that's different. This cake delivers on many levels, being both cake and crumble, and is equally good warm or cold. It contains custard. The ‘faffing’ involves nothing more arduous than making said custard, caramelising some fruit, and knocking up some crumble topping. These tasks, straightforward in themselves, provide the perfect opportunity for hanging out and flicking through the magazine section of the paper of a Saturday afternoon, while rolling out a practiced “No I can’t possibly help you, darling, I just have to keep my eye on these pears”...
Pear & Custard Crumble Cake
2 tbsp custard powder, 2 tbsp golden caster sugar, 200ml milk, 400-450g whole pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks, 75ml brandy, 190g light muscovado sugar, 60g oats, 140g unsalted butter, 60g plain flour, 40g ground almonds, 1½ tsp baking powder, 2 large eggs
You’ll also need greaseproof paper and a deep 20cm round cake tin – it’ll be easier if it’s loose bottomed – which you’ve greased and lined. You might want to think about some cream or crème fraiche to serve with it, too. Better to think about it now rather than later, I always say.Combine the custard powder and caster sugar a bowl and mix to a smooth paste with about 50ml of the milk.
Heat the rest of the milk in a medium sized pan and when it’s getting close to boiling, pour it onto the custard powder paste and stir together, then pour it all back in to the pan on a medium heat and stir constantly (or whisk) till the custard thickens.
Pour the thickened custard back into the bowl, and press in a piece of greaseproof paper to cover the top of the custard and stop a skin forming. Leave to cool until very firm.
Put the pears, brandy, 50g of the light muscovado sugar and 75ml water into a pan, bring to the boil and cook over a high heat till all the liquid has evaporated. Keep an eye on it, and stir occasionally. Once the liquid has evaporated, set the pan aside.
Make the crumble topping by rubbing together the oats with 40g of the unsalted butter and the muscovado sugar till they form oaty crumbs.
Once the custard is thick and chilled and the pears are cooled, pre-heat the oven to about 1800C /1600C for fan ovens.
Beat together the remaining butter and sugar, then add the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each. The mixture may look a little curdled but bear with it – or add a little of the flour after each egg.
Add in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder and beat again. Chop up the custard into rough pieces and stir into the mixture, then scrape it all into the lined tin and gently spread it level.
Scatter the pears on top and stir through the cake mixture, then sprinkle the crumble topping on top of that till everything is covered.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, and leave to cool in the tin. It will be cooked when the crumble is golden brown and a skewer comes out reasonably clean, but it is quite a damp cake.
Leave to cool in the tin.
Serve the cake with cream and a cup of tea. Alternatively, increase your chances of never being asked to mix concrete or measure straight lines again by bearing a tray with a generous slice of cake and a glass of the brandy (assuming you didn’t drink it all in the kitchen while flicking through your paper) to your New Year Project Monkey and exclaim, adoringly “Oh darling, you are clever – it looks marvellous – I could never have done it as well. Would you like some cake?”
Disclaimer (!): I wrote this post as an application for a cake column (without reference to the greenhouse moving, which is a genuine project). I didn't get the cake gig, but hey ho, we had some good cake, and I thought you'd all like it too. And if you think anyone's moving any greenhouses in this weather, think again...