Upside-down ginger pear and walnut cake


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In my opinion, the secret of a successful dish isn’t necessarily dependant on how it was cooked, or who cooked it, or whatever ingredients it contains. A plate of saffron-infused lobster, dressed with a Yubari melon salsa and stuffed with truffles, caviar and wagyu would probably, if not definitely, taste like a dog’s dinner. Not even Remy the rat, the world’s greatest chef (from the film Ratatouille) could deliver on that promise. No, the simpler litmus test for a plate of food is how it affects ambient levels of sound during the eating. If the table falls from a crescendo of yelps and chatter and becomes deathly silent, barring the odd scrape of a fork and knife, then you know you’ve nailed it.

That’s how it works in my family anyway. And sometimes it comes as a sweet relief to discover a dish that actively encourages quietude. Such as this lovely gooey cake, spiced with ginger, laced with sweet pear and crunchy walnuts.

I’ve cooked this cake plenty of times now but the biggest impact it ever had was on two gentlemen who come in the shape of my father-in-law and an uncle-in-law. Both builders by trade, they don’t necessarily talk but more like shout all the time, especially at each other and before serving, the noise levels they were creating very nearly threatened to burst our collective eardrums. Yet when I plonked down the flat, fat slices in front of them (with a healthy dollop of ice-cream alongside) well, you could have heard a pin drop.

Of course the peace didn’t last long. It never does when they come over, but the point is, any dessert that can shut up these two up, even just for a minute or two, that is the ultimate testimony to its greatness.




Ginger cake

For the topping

  • 50g of unsalted butter
  • 100g of light brown sugar
  • 400g of pears, halved (tinned are fine)
  • 1 handful of walnut halves

To serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4
To make the topping, gently melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the sugar and stir for a couple of minutes. Smooth over the base of a 20cm cake tin with a removable base, 7cm deep. Arrange the pears on top, cut-side down, with a few walnuts around the outside, flat-side down
To make the cake, sift the flour, bicarb and spices into a bowl, and add a good pinch of fine sea salt. Blend the egg, sugar, treacle, soured milk and butter in a separate large bowl, and fold in the flour mixture. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and then pour the mixture over the fruit in the tin
Place on a baking tray and bake for 40-50 minutes. To test the cake is done, insert a skewer into the centre and if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Try to skewer a patch of cake rather than a pear by the way! Remove from the oven, run a knife around the edge and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes
To serve, remove the collar and invert the cake onto a plate or cake stand and cut into slices. Best enjoyed warm or at room temperature. And the aforementioned dollop of vanilla ice-cream always goes down a treat too
Best enjoyed warm or at room temperature
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