“I love a good cake and this is just that. Juicy, moist and wonderfully light, but most importantly, not too sweet. It sings with warm flavours from the spices, while the walnuts provide an earthy and satisfying crunch. The pears are first cooked in a caramel until sweet and tender, and you then pour the batter over and bake the cake upside down. Once cooked, you turn out the cake and let the caramel trickle into the sponge below. All it needs is a spoon of crème fraîche and you will be happy as can be. I find this cake lasts a good few days, especially if you keep it covered. Just gently warm any leftover slices in a low 140°C fan oven before you tuck in, which brings it back to life. ”
Start by peeling the pears, then cut into quarters lengthways and remove the cores with a sharp knife. Place a wide frying pan on a medium heat and add the butter. When it begins to melt, add the pears, cut side down, then sprinkle the soft brown sugar over the top and shimmy the pan, using the weight of the pears to mix the sugar into the butter. Squeeze in the lemon juice and cook down for 8–10 minutes, until the pears have softened and the butter and sugar have become an amber-coloured caramel. Remove the pears and arrange cut side up, fat side out in a 9-inch cake tin (you may not need all of them). Ideally don’t use a springform tin, as the small gap allows the caramel to trickle out. But if you have to, use some baking parchment to create a seal (if possible, you want the cake touching the metal sides as this creates a lovely crust). Leave the caramel bubbling on a low heat to reduce further until it is properly thick, then pour over the pears.
Preheat your oven to 180°C fan. For the cake, you can either mix with an electric whisk or use a stand mixer. Place the softened butter in a large bowl and add the sugar. Whisk until the butter is pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides a few times to make sure it is evenly incorporated. With the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is thoroughly mixed before adding the next, or the butter may split.
Grind the cardamom seeds and cloves in a pestle and mortar, then pour into a bowl. Bash the walnuts in the pestle and mortar or crush them in a folded tea towel, using a rolling pin. You want to keep a chunky texture. Mix the flour with the baking powder to ensure it’s evenly distributed. Sift, then add to the butter with the salt, cinnamon, ground spices and walnuts. Mix these dry ingredients into the batter, then stir through the sour cream. Pour the cake batter over the pears and lightly even out the top.
Now, remembering that all ovens are different, place in the middle of your oven for up to an hour, until the cake is set. After around 30 minutes, I turn the heat down to 160°C fan to make sure the top doesn’t get too dark. Keep an eye, but don’t open the door or you risk the cake deflating. After about 50 minutes, give the cake a jiggle – if the middle is at all wobbly it’s not cooked yet. To test, insert a skewer into the middle and when it comes out clean it’s ready.
At this point, remove from the oven and leave to sit for 15 minutes, then place a chopping board gently on top of the cake. Flip the cake and board, then remove the tin and you should have a beautifully risen cake with juicy caramelised pears on top. I like to serve it warm, with crème fraîche or double cream and a coffee. It stays juicy for a good few days – just warm up a slice in the oven at 140°C fan.