Sticky pear and ginger cake: it is dark, moist and spicy like gingerbread cake, with juicy chunks of pears and crunchy pecans scattered over the sticky syrupy surface.
The lost world of recipe clippings
The recipe for this cake sat for about 15 years in a bundle of my very, very old magazine clippings. That’s right, that’s how old it is: it goes back not only to the times I used to read actual paper magazines and newspapers but also cut out recipes and store them in a folder! That’s a veritable granny attribute.
This one featured in BBC Good Food. For whatever reason I never got round to making it back in the day (too many cakes, too little time) and discovered it recently while doing a clear-out.
What a treasure trove! Not just this one cake; I discovered the best recipe for authentic French macarons there too, as well as my original Christmas stuffing recipe (and there I was thinking I just put the ingredients together so well using solely my culinary intuition!).
A perfect autumn and winter cake
This cake is totally an autumn – winter dessert, perfect to have with a spiced coffee, milky tea or hot chocolate while wrapped in a blanket.
Dates make every cake batter turn magically gorgeous because they dissolve into lovely sticky goo. Ginger is made for end of year season with its heat and sweetness.
Nuts mean autumn and pears, the fruit that so unfairly always plays understudy to apples, are the best in October and November. Brown sugar and ginger jam/preserve are in it plus optional sticky syrup to souse or drizzle with, and yet the cake is not at all too sweet.
How to make sticky pear and ginger cake?
It is also one of those wonderful cakes that start their life in a saucepan. Melting butter with sugar, milk and dates always signals the beginning of a beautiful bake, with the smell of warmed up ingredients and spices working their magic before they find their way into the oven.
You don’t need a mixer, not even handheld: the eggs and the dry ingredients can be whisked by hand into the slightly cooled down wet mix. Pears come on top; whether scattered or arranged artfully they will be gorgeous anyway.
They won’t sink which I think is wonderful, but in case some strange people complained that the fruit was too dry, the syrup can moisten and glaze the sticking out fruit chunks and pecans. And if you add an extra squeeze of lemon to it, you’ll also avoid the nonetheless baseless claims of ‘too sickly’.
And then the only thing that will possibly improve it is a generous tablespoon of crème fraiche or thick Greek yoghurt by the side of a large slice of the cake.
Variations and substitutions
By all means apple chunks can be used instead of pears. I just think it’s such a shame not to use the underdog fruit when the recipe specifically calls for it. But if you have everything else at hand and only the fruit needs to be swapped – go for it. A slightly changed cake recipe is better than no cake, for sure.
Pecans are not obligatory. For some reason those nuts are awfully expensive in our part of the world. Pecan pie? Prohibitively expensive - they must be much more abundant and cheaper in America, the homeland of the pie.
So instead, use walnut halves if that’s what you have in the store cupboard. Unlike pears for apples, swapping a different kind of nut will make only a minor difference.
Skip the syrup and make some lemony icing instead, to drizzle over the fruit chunks.
If you can’t stand ginger, use apricot jam and omit ground ginger from the ingredients list.
Dark brown sugar works as well as dark muscovado. For an enhanced date experience, use date sugar if available (from specialist baking online retailers). It’s really quite wonderful.
More gingerbread recipes
Dutch chunky gingerbread is baked as a large slab and broken into large or small biscuits decorated with whole almonds.
If you can’t be bothered to make classic Christmas cake, bake this instead: cranberry and ginger cake. You might find it’s better than the classic.
Fresh ginger and molasses cake by Samin Nosrat is dark, tender and smells like Christmas. The twist is fresh grated ginger added to the cake, beautifully cutting through the molasses flavour.
More pear recipes
A cross between a cake and a tart, pear tart has a sponge base and lemony yoghurt filling, topped with beautiful pears.
Is it a starter or dessert? It’s both: just like figs, pears can be baked and topped with blue cheese for a great combo of flavours.
And let’s not forget that pears work in salads, like in this pear, pumpkin and haloumi one.