Gingerbread is one of my favourite flavours, dark molasses paired with warm spices. This cake adds poached pears to make it a real showstopper for Christmas or any other occasion. The recipe is easy to follow and absolutely delicious. If you can’t be bothered to poach the pears, simply chop 3 pears, peel and core and add to the batter.

serves 8

8 small firm pears, (we used mini conference)
200g golden caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
6 cloves
1 lemon, zest
1 orange, zest
2 tbsp ginger wine or brandy (optional)

For the sponge
250g pitted dates
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300ml oat milk (any other non dairy milk will work as well)
200ml neutral oil, plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp molasses (black strap is delicious)
175g dark muscavado sugar
200g self-raising flour or 180g gluten free self raising flour
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Peel the pears and cut the bottom off each to give a flat base – cut them to a height that will fit snugly in your tin. Use a melon baller or small knife to cut out the pips from the base. Roughly chop the pear scraps, discarding the pips, and set aside.

Tip the sugar, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, zests, ginger wine and 400ml water into a saucepan large enough to fit all the pears. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears, cover with a lid or a piece of baking parchment, and poach gently for 15 mins until a knife easily slides into a pear. Leave to cool in the liquid.

Now make the sponge. Put the dates, ground flax seeds and bicarbonate of soda in a saucepan and add the almond milk. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for 2-3 mins until the dates are soft. Carefully blend with a stick blender, add the oil, molasses and sugar and blend again.

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tin (a loose bottomed one if possible) with a strip of baking parchment. Alternatively, these can be made into individual cakes using a lined muffin tin. You will have excess cake batter that can be baked without the pears.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, mixed spice, ginger, baking powder and salt. Add the date and oil mixture, and stir well. Fold in the chopped pear scraps.

Scrape the cake mixture into the tin or divide into muffin tins, then nestle in the pears, standing straight up, so that the bottom halves are covered. Bake for 35-40 mins (20-25 minutes for muffin tin) until the cake is cooked through.

Insert a skewer to the centre to check – it should come out clean. If there is any wet cake mixture on the skewer, return the cake to the oven and bake for 5 mins more, then check again.

Meanwhile, bring the pear poaching liquid back to the boil and simmer until reduced to a scented syrup. Strain and set aside. Serve cake with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with scented syrup.

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