A post about food and travel. And the friends and memories you make along the way.
Oh, and cake!
I recently reconnected with my Australian friend Helen whom I met on a trip to Tuscany a few years back. We met on a cooking week in Torrita di Siena, Tuscany and ever since chatting I have been looking at photos of the trip and thinking back to the fantastic time we had. I met my friend Conrad in Rome, where we spent a few days, before setting off for a week of cooking (and eating and drinking) in Tuscany and ended the trip with 2 days exploring Florence.
Every day in Tuscany would start with a trip to a different market where we would buy ingredients for lunch and dinner. We would cook the meals ourselves with the assistance and guidance from a number of chefs from our hosts’ restaurant and cooking school in the UK. We worked really hard but had huge amounts of fun.
In the evening, dinner was served outside, overlooking the surrounding Tuscan hills and valleys. Around that al fresco table, we would stay until the early hours of the morning, chatting, laughing and on a few occasions, outsmarting the temperamental irrigation system. All while working our way through many, many, bottles of Italian wine.
I also clearly remember visiting family of Giancarlo’s on their smallholding who were about 80% self sufficient. Every now and again I get the urge to pack up city life and go farm – I know the seeds were planted that day.
While we were there our host Katie Caldesi was writing a recipe book. My task one day was to test this recipe of Franca’s Pear Cake. A few years later I was recipe book browsing when I saw the book called The Italian Cookery Course, written by Katie. I was so surprised and bought it on the spot. It is a wonderful book which I often use as a reference for anything related to Italian food and recipes. And of course, I was also very happy to see the Pear Cake recipe in the book – the exact recipe I tested while in Tuscany.
I made the Pear Cake again this week to celebrate the wonderful memories of that trip. A trip that made me fall head over heels in love with Italy. I have been back (to eat). And discovered a small bit of Sicily in the process which has me constantly yearning to get back.
It was also a trip that changed the way I travel. These days you won’t find me with a guidebook of monuments and museums to visit. I now have a carefully researched list of what to eat and where to eat it. And that list sets the itinerary for every day.
This cake is delicious and worth making while pears are in season. I added 50g walnuts to the cake which was not part of the original recipe. I sprinkled it on top before baking but as you can see in the photos the nuts moved to the centre of the cake. I suggest mixing the nuts into the batter as the recipe states below.
- 200g plain flour
- 15g baking powder
- 200g sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or the seeds of one vanilla pod
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 125ml milk
- 50g walnuts (or pine nuts) (optional)
- 100g butter, at room temperature
- 2 pears, peeled and cut into eights
- Prepare a 25cm cake tin with parchment paper by making a cartouche.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
- Use a whisk to mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest.
- Stir in the milk and mix until smooth.
- Add the walnuts or pine nuts if used and stir well to combine.
- Break the butter into small pieces and whisk them in.
- Pour the mix into the prepared tin and arrange the pears over the batter.
- Push the pears into the mixture a bit.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
- The cake is much better mixed by hand rather than an electric mixer. The small lumps of butter left in the mixture melt, leaving holes that keep the cake light yet moist and buttery.
- Adapted from Katie Caldesi
Here is a link to a video of how to make a cartouche.