The Month of Cake is a celebration of my wonderful colleagues whom I’m leaving for a new opportunity. To show my appreciation for all the great times we’ve had, I’m baking them four cakes – one for each week of my notice period. For more details about why I’m going to miss them so much, check out my post from Week 1 of the Month of Cake.
Week 3 of The Month of Cake was another Julie Le Clerc recipe, a delectable Pistachio Cake studded with vanilla poached pears. I’ve made this cake before, once for my Mum’s birthday (although that time I overcooked it into a solid, dry disc), once for my sister’s birthday (much better this time), and the last time was a few years ago, for another group of great colleagues. Ever since I sorted out the method (Julie directs you to bake it for 1 hour 15 minutes, which turns out to be far too long), I’ve thought of it as one of my best cake recipes. It’s elegant, but not fussy; easy, but definitely special. I love it so much that I don’t make it very often (guys, do you realise that over the last ten years I’ve only made this cake four times, and the fourth time was for you?).
This cake takes a little forethought but the effort is well paid off. Preparation centres on two tasks. Pears are first poached in sweet water spiced with vanilla and left to cool in the liquid until they have sucked the vanilla deep into their centres. Next, the ground pistachio is prepared. I’ve never seen pistachio meal available to buy, but it’s easy enough to grind the nuts to a fine meal in a food processor. Don’t be too concerned if your home grinding results in an uneven meal; I think the cake is better for a few chewy nuggets of pistachio studding the pillow-soft crumb. Once you have your nuts and pears ready it’s a quick job to whip the other ingredients together, nestle the pears into the batter and slide it into the oven.
Once cooked, the cake will have a light golden sheen, which to my eye looks a little odd. This is easily remedied by a dusting of icing sugar and a scattering of pistachio – the contrast of white against green provides the perfect enhancement. I like to eat it singularly unadorned, although Julie suggests pairing it with yoghurt cut half and half with whipped cream (also good). Either way, if you can bear to wait, the cake will be better on the second day. Enjoy!
Pistachio Cake with Vanilla Pears
For the vanilla pears:
1 cup sugar
3 cups water
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
3 large, firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
For the pistachio cake:
125g salted butter, softened
3/4 cup castor sugar
2/3 cup yoghurt
2/3 cup plain flour
2/3 cup self-raising flour
1 cup ground pistachios
To serve: icing sugar and 2 Tbsp ground pistachios
To make the vanilla pears, combine the vanilla seeds and husk with the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Add the pears and bring back to the boil. Turn down to a low simmer and poach the pears gently for 10 minutes or until tender when pierced with a skewer. Turn the heat off and allow the pears to cool in the poaching liquid.
To make the cake, first preheat the oven to 160°C / 320°F using the fan-bake setting. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking paper and butter the sides.
Whisk the flours and pistachio in a large bowl to combine and aerate. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the yoghurt using a large spatula, then sprinkle over the flour and pistachio and fold in until just combined.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin then place the pears on top, nudging them gently into the batter (positioning them on their sides allows you to fit them all in). Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a serving dish. Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle over the reserved ground pistachio.