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The Month of Cake: Pistachio Cake with Vanilla Pears

The Month of Cake - Pear and Pistachio Cake2

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!

The Month of Cake - Pear and Pistachio Cake 4

Pistachio Cake with Vanilla Pears

Julie Le Clerc, Feast@Home

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
3 eggs
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.


  1. Katrina

    A great cake.. a further tweak. Reduce the pear syrup over low heat after the pears have been removed and use it to accompany the cake…a drizzle on top of each slice is glorious.

    • Hi Katrina, that is a fantastic idea! I actually did do this one time I made the cake, but last time I didn’t for some reason…such a waste, now that I think about it. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

  2. Pingback: Making Home: Objets d’art (Part 2) | Chez Moi

  3. this cake looks amazing, i am most intrigued by the two steps of doing the poaching of the pears and then making the cake itself. i’ve never seen pistachio flour either.

    where is your cake stand from?

    • The cake stand is from my local charity store. Isn’t it great? I would say that it’s a 70’s piece made by a local hippie potter, but really I have no idea. It’s definitely unique! As for the poaching, this ensures that the pears are as yielding and luscious as the rest of the cake. An extra step, but well worth it.

  4. Pingback: The Month of Cake: Fresh Ginger Cake | Chez Moi

  5. This cake looks and sounds fantastic! I have never ground pistachios before, but I love them, so I bet they taste great in a cake.

    • They work really well in this cake – it’s only a subtle pistachio flavour but it goes so well with the vanilla pears. The tinge of green is a novelty too.

  6. Fantastic use of ground pistachios. I expect they keep the cake moist just like ground almonds do. I can imagine it would have a fantastic taste, particularly with those pears!

    • They do indeed, it’s a lovely moist cake – the yoghurt helps too. It would be a lovely cake even without the pears, but they really add something special.

  7. How magnificent! It dose seem a lot of hard work, but it’s always worth it to see everyone else enjoying it 🙂

    • It is work, that’s for sure, but provided I’m not pressed for time and have to rush, I find any sort of cooking relaxing, almost meditative. Except the clean-up. Clean-ups are never fun!

  8. Kerry

    I really like the way that (social constructionisty sociologist you) presents these recipes as precise measurements that should be followed, although the text does tend to challenge this in several ways. Looking forward to your post on recipes as directions to be followed at all costs. The cakes look great. I assume Cake Four will have to triumph all the rest! Cheers, Kerry

    • Interesting that you say this Kerry – a post I wrote a couple of years ago about my Mum’s peanut cookies did explore this a little. Her recipe was written 40 years ago and the directions are very sparse with much room for interpretation. These days recipes tend to be quite detailed and precise. On another note, the second to last time I made this Pistachio Cake was actually for the School of Psych team!

      • Hi there Chez, Another masterpiece! I wish I worked with you. On the theme of recipes and leeway, a lot of my grandmother’s hand written recipes were vague about temperature because of wood ovens. Moderate (hot, low) etc and often a time range. I have her mother-in-law’s recipe for gingerbread or similar which is in huge quantities. Perhaps for the farm workers? One of my great aunt’s coffee cake recipes was standard, but she always cooked it quickly and very hot. The top was a bit scorched on the edges but the cake was light and even and soft. She inspired me and I usually increase the temp and shorten cooking time with cakes & scones. Happy accidents but variable results!

      • That’s exactly like my Mum’s old hand written recipes. She didn’t use a wood fire, but there was definitely much room for interpretation in the instructions. Baking can be so fickle and I can’t imagine adding a wood oven into the mix! I have a portable oven thermometer that I’ve used to check the temperature of the oven whenever we’ve moved…as you can tell, I really don’t like to take chances with baking, although I’m quite happy to experiment with every other kind of cooking…I’m not sure why, perhaps because it’s easier to rescue other types of food but burned biscuits and rock hard cake isn’t good for much else but the bin!

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