I’ve started to see a pattern in the kind of cakes I prefer to bake- spiced cakes, fruit cakes, vegetable cakes, thus often sidelining chocolate. This time is no exception. Pears, with their gleaming green bottoms are so lovely right now that I just had to find a way to make them fit snugly into my monthly recipe plan. The spices in this cake are similar to those I would use for a carrot cake, which reminds me, I’ve been itching to make some ever since I scanned through Linda Lomelino’s Peach and Carrot mash-up earlier this week, but unfortunately it’ll have to wait. Edible gifts for Raksha Bandhan have to be planned (you’ll find out soon enough) and I’ve been sitting on many more Indian recipes that will gradually appear on the blog in the course of the month.
Now coming to the best part of this cake- the icing. It’s nothing new, and I can hardly take credit for it, but this London Fog meringue buttercream is luxurious and swirls beautifully around your tiered cake. The London Fog was made famous by Starbucks in Vancouver, Canada. It is basically an earl grey latte with a few pushes of vanilla syrup, served hot on cold foggy days, and our buttercream is going to taste of just that. I rip open Twinnings’ Earl Grey teabags and steep them in the butter to infuse the icing, and use fresh vanilla bean, as opposed to essence for a richer flavour. Finish with some caramel sauce. Here’s the recipe:
For The Spiced Pear Cake
All-purpose flour 2 cups
Cinnamon 1 1/2 tsp, ground
Allspice 1 1/2 tsp, ground
Nutmeg 1 1/2 tsp, ground
Baking soda 1 tsp
Baking powder 1 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Butter 226g, soft
Caster sugar 1 cup
Eggs 3, separated
Vanilla Essence 1 tsp
Whipped curd 1 cup
Pears 3, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces of about 1 to 1 1/2 cm
Walnuts 1 cup, slightly toasted, then cooled and roughly chopped
For The London Fog Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Loose Earl Grey tea 12g
Egg whites 1/2 cup
Caster sugar 1 1/4 cup
Vanilla bean paste from 2 pods
For The Salted Caramel
Dairy cream 2/3 cup
Sugar 1 cup
Cold butter 100g, cut into cubes
Sea salt flakes 1/2 tsp
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees celsius. Butter and line three 15 cm sandwich tins. Sift together the baking powder, baking soda, flour in one bowl. In another bowl, using an electric hand mixer beat together the spices, sugar and butter until the mixture is quite fluffy. Then add the yolks one at a time and beat well for a whole minute or two between each addition. Then finally beat in the vanilla. Next, reduce the speed to low and alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, mixing after each addition. Finally fold in the pear pieces and the chopped walnuts.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a cleaned set of beater blades until they hold stiff peaks . Fold these egg whites into the batter gently, but make sure that it is incorporated thoroughly. Pour the batter evenly between the pans, tap the pan once and bake until a skewer comes out clean- about 50 minutes for me. When done, remove the pan from the oven and let it cool on a rack for ten minutes before unmoulding, and letting it cool completely.
The Salted Caramel
You can make this caramel sauce well in advance and keep a batch of this on-hand at all times. Gently heat the cream in a saucepan and when it’s warm enough, just set it aside.
Put the sugar in the saucepan over medium-high heat and let it melt around the edges. When it does, carefully swirl the sugar using a silicon spatula and help it melt. Add in the butter piece by piece and stir it till it has melted. Carefully add in the warm cream and be careful because the mixture could bubble up by here. Do this little by little and stir until smooth. Add in the sea salt and take it off the heat. Pour it in a jar and let it cool to room temperature.
Place 1 cup of the butter in a saucepan together with the tea over medium heat. Let the butter melt completely, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit in the butter for a few more minutes. Strain the butter and refrigerate it till it starts to solidify again. Remove and keep it after 15 minutes, because you still want it to be the consistency of soft butter. There will still be some bits of tea inside the butter but we want this.
Next, place the egg whites and sugar in a glass bowl over a double boiler setting with a saucepan of simmering water underneath. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the surface of the water. Whisk this mixture over heat and using a candy thermometer let the mixture register a temperature of 70 degrees celsius. If not using a thermometer, rub a little bit of the mixture between your fingers and if you can feel all the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot to touch, get it off the heat. It’s ready.
Beat this mixture using a hand-beater and beat it until it holds stiff peaks. This should take 7-8 minutes. When done, let it cool until the bowl returns to room temperature again. Now with the beater on low speed, whisk in the vanilla, the infused butter mixture and the remaining 1 cup of butter into the mixture, turn the speed up to a medium and whip until the buttercream is smooth- about 4 minutes. Keep in the refrigerator till ready to use.
To assemble the cake, if they’re rounded on top, you will need to cut a thin layer of the top with a serrated bread knife. Put the first layer on the cake stand or a turn table and spread some of the buttercream on top. Repeat this till you have used up all the layers.
Next, spread a fairly thin layer of buttercream around the whole cake to keep the crumbs in place. Use an offset spatula to ease the icing along when spreading it around the cake. Put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to let the buttercream firm up. Fish it out after 15 minutes and spread the rest of the buttercream around the cake. Dipping the offset spatula in warm water, drying it and using it every time will give you a more even finished result.
Drizzle over the salted caramel sauce on top and serve.