I love birthdays. I love surprises and presents and being spoiled and Facebook messages and all the other good things that come with celebrating the passing of another year.
It was my birthday on Monday. I successfully turned it into an Amelia festival starting on Friday night, continuing through to work on Monday. Four cakes were involved. I regret nothing.
The first birthday cake I remember was made by my mum from a Woman’s Weekly kid’s birthday cake recipe book. I pored over the well-worn pages of that book, weighing up my options, taking the selection of my cake very seriously. There were trains and swimming pools and a lion, but I chose a cake that was a garish shade of pink and somehow incorporated hot pink tulle as part of the decoration. I thought that cake was the most beautiful in the world, and my mum the greatest mum ever for making it.
This year, I continued the tradition of poring over recipe books to find the perfect birthday cake. The decoration has grown a little more sophisticated over the (many!) years since my pink cake, but the excitement hasn’t diminished.
My selection for 2013, a Pear, Chocolate and Pistachio Cake, has an understated elegance. It combines middle eastern inspired ingredients such as pistachios and orange zest with dark chocolate and pears to create a textured and interesting cake that is so flavoursome it stands without any adornment.
I was delighted at the significant jaffa overtone it has, made more significant by my substitution of orange juice for Marsala. Using a really high-quality dark chocolate is key to the flavour of the cake, as you use a whole block. This isn’t a cake for allergy sufferers with nuts, dairy, flour, sugar and fruit all providing their support to make a delicious cake, but it is a crowd pleaser.
I’m not sure I can ever top my excitement over the pink tulle cake, but this one is definitely up there in taste and sophistication.
Pear, Chocolate and Pistachio Cake
- 150g (5 1/2 oz / 1 cup) pistachios
- 200g (7 oz / 1 1/2 cups) chopped, best-quality dark chocolate
- 150g (5 1/2 oz) butter, chopped
- 150g (5 1/2 oz / 2/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
- 3 eggs
- 150g (5 1/2 oz / 1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons Marsala, Frangelico, Strega, port or orange juice
- 2 pears, peeled and cored and cut into small pieces
- Icing (confectioner’s) sugar, for dusting
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. Line a 24cm (9 1/2 inch) round cake tin with baking paper and lightly grease.
Put the pistachios and chocolate into a food processor and process to a coarse consistency. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. If you have a crappy food processor like I do, you can use a knife to chop the ingredients for this step.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, or a large bowl ready for an electric beater, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Gently mix in the flour and baking powder until combined.
Add the butter mixture to the chocolate and pistachio mixture, along with the orange zest, Marsala (or orange juice) and pears and fold through. The mixture will be quite dense. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and place in the oven.
The original recipe says bake for an hour. Mine only took 30 minutes. So check at 30 minutes and if a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, it’s ready. It won’t rise to great heights, with all those lovely nuts and fruit and chocolate bits weighing it down.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar and cut into slices to serve.
From Rosa’s Farm: Country Cooking by Rosa Mitchell