We had bought these very small pears in Foggia, as they were so tiny and pretty. For scale, here is one of the pears with a tin of chickpeas and a very large Foggia onion.
I was planning do bake banana bread today, but the pears needed to be used up. We debated options over breakfast (yesterday’s sourdough bread): perhaps a clafoutis, something where we could showcase the pears whole? Being so small, there would be no need to poach them. Then we agreed that a cake might be nice, something for a quiet Sunday afternoon while my husband is listening to the cricket. So cake it was: adapted from this recipe in The Telegraph: The new baker: baked whole pear cake from last November. That recipe includes nutmeg, orange zest and rum, with a bit more butter and sugar, and looks just gorgeous.
Cardamom cake with small whole pears
75g softened butter, plus 10g to butter the tin
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp vanilla salt (or plain salt)
130g plain flour
1 tsp rum (optional)
12-14 small pears, unpeeled and cored
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Brush base and sides of a 24 cm springform tin with a little softened butter. Beat butter and sugar, add eggs. Add dry ingredients, and rum, if using. Wash and core the pears from below, with a very small paring knife, leaving the pears whole. Make sure they are cut level at base so you can stand them in the tin more easily. No need to peel them.
The batter will be quite thick. Spread a couple spoons of batter on the base of the tin, and stand the whole cored pears in the tun. Spoon the rest of the batter carefully in the gaps between the pears. It may look a bit scant, but the batter puffs up nicely while baking. Bake 55 minutes 180°C or so until golden. Cool before slicing.
Notes: I had bought vanilla salt from the Mercato Centrale in Florence, where I usually buy smoked salt when up there for a weekend (coffee, market, then bistecca Fiorentina at Trattoria Mario – mmmmm….) This time, the vanilla salt looked interesting too. The stallholder recommended using it on fish, which I haven’t tried yet, but it is great in baking.
The Telegraph recipe suggested varying this with stoned apricots or plums, then using cardamon or star anise. I do like cardamon, and the flavour is strong in this cake even with just 1/4 teaspoon, so you might want to use less. Cinnamon could have been nice too. Halves of larger pears would work as well, though I’d keep an eye on the moisture from the pears, as cut pears might leach more moisture. A smaller tin and a bit more batter might be needed to stand the pears in.