Tucked in among the leaves of my first cookery notebook, there is a scribbled on 3x5 file card with the ingredients for an apple cake. I originally salvaged the card thinking it was the famous family cake, but despite countless attempts over the years I am yet to master the recipe. This is possibly because the scratchings on the card consist only of the ingredients list and lacks any method, cooking time or temperature. As a result, every time I make what I now refer to as the cake with limited information, it flops. Edges taste great, but is the centre is goo or the top is burned.
Continuous baking failures do not sit well with me. I like to keep trying until I get a recipe to work. It is no secret that I am both mildly compulsive and an optimist who believes that in the end triumph prevails, but making this apple cake, without success, more times than I can remember challenges my inner beliefs.
Recently, the culmination of all my failed attempts paid off. A different pan, a lot less sugar, different oil, and a much longer cooking time than I ever anticipated, and finally a winner. No gloopy mess in the middle, and the desired result of a not too pretty, but immensely moist and comforting apple cake of my dreams.
In my wave of excitement I embarked on a new wave of experimentation, searching for the perfect festive cake to sit on my countertop for a few days. You see, it is Thanksgiving next week, and the 4th Thursday in November is a BIG DEAL in our family. Bigger this year, as for the first time ever some of the American contingent are coming to celebrate with us here in London. And thus there will be more people than usual hanging around the kitchen island looking for a little something sweet to accompany their tea.
So I wanted to turn this (finally) perfect apple cake (which is now a staple on my Rosh Hashanah menu) into something a little more festive for cranberry season. Thanks to a plethora of pears, and my zealous over purchase of the first cranberries to hit the shelves at my local greengrocer, further experiments commenced. Apple quantities reduced, cranberries and pecans added, sugar quantity tinkered with again. And here we have the result.
For some it may not meet the beautiful cake criteria. But it is succulent, deliciously tart, and so packed with fruit that even if you eat 3 slices at once, all guilt is assuaged as it could count as one of your 5 a day. Sitting on a beautiful plate, covered with a dome, it will last for 3-5 days on your counter (if not devoured first). Or if you feel the need to beautify it for tea or dessert, dollop on some maple whipped cream, and a sprinkling of cinnamon or chopped nuts and hey presto! A beauty.
Pear Cranberry and Pecan Cake
Note: If you want to make the original apple version, use 350g (3 cups, 4-5 apples), peeled and sliced and leave out the cranberries. Nuts are optional, but I prefer walnuts with the apples.
I like oil based fruit cakes as they let the flavour of the fruit shine through. As a general rule I like to use olive oil instead of sunflower oil, so when tinkering with this recipe I replaced the flavourless oil with olive oil. Feel free to use sunflower oil instead of olive oil.
300ml (1.25 cups) olive oil plus more for greasing
400g (2 cups) caster sugar
300g (2.5 cups / approx 4 med pears) peeled, cored and sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice (basically juice from half a lemon)
150g (approx 1.5 cups) fresh cranberries, halved or roughly chopped
100g (1 cup) pecan halves, roughly chopped
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
350g (3 cups) plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Grease and line an angel food pan or tube pan with a hole in the middle. (This quantity also makes two 1lb loaf cakes).
Combine olive oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, prep the rest of the ingredients.
Peel and slice the pears and cover with lemon juice to stop them browning. Halve the cranberries and chop the nuts.
In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, whisk together and set aside.
Add the eggs one at a time to the oil and sugar, and mix for another minute or two until silky smooth.
Add vanilla, followed by dry ingredients.
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in fruit and nuts with a wooden spoon.
Pour batter into cake tin and cook in the lower third of the oven for 1hr 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. This is always a little hard to tell with a cake containing such a high quantity of fruit as the fruit sticks to the skewer even if the cake is cooked. If you are making this in loaf tins cook for 50-60 minutes.
Maple Whipped Cream (optional topping)
300ml (1.25 cups) whipping cream
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon for sprinkling on top of the cream
Whip the cream until it just holds soft peaks. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and mix through.
Dollop onto the top of cake and sprinkle with cinnamon, or just serve the cream on the side.