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  • Writer's pictureAmy Minichiello

Sticky Date Cake with Poached Pears & A Sourdough Crumb

I am finding the scribbled notes on the lined piece of paper in my notebook hard for me to even decipher...Arrows pointing here another over there...did I mean that the hazelnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon were blitzed together? Was it mascarpone or creme fraiche? 4 or 6 pears in total? All of these questions and more spin around inside my head making me slightly dizzy!! Beau's little scribbles only add another layer in the decoding of it all, oh my!

This is the way every recipe begins. My notebook close by as I jot down different ingredients and flavours that I want to incorporate. It's like a slowly simmering pot, bubbling its way to the surface. Sometimes it can take a couple of weeks before I am able to even get to the testing stage and sometimes I can trip over a happy accident - just like the pear, rosemary and apple tart recipe that I shared in a post over on Instagram. It is when this happens I give a little clap of my hands and then I have to madly write everything down before it completely leaves my headspace!

It was the elegant Beurre Bosc pears at Hawkes Farm that inspired this cake. A tub of ricotta and a couple of day-old sourdough slices helped bring this winter warming sweet treat to life.

The stickiness of the dates adds to the lovely moist crumb. brown sugar gives it a caramel note or two and cinnamon, ginger and star anise add comfort when we need it most. The spiced sourdough crumb that is finally scattered over the top makes use of stale bread ends and adds a heavenly crunch.

It may be worlds apart from the Sara Lee sticky date pudding that I very much enjoyed when I was younger (I couldn't think of anything more ghastly now!!) But, I have to say I'm pretty thrilled with how my version of a somewhat "grown-up" sticky date cake turned out.

On the day of baking and testing of this recipe, we enjoyed thick slices, still warm, on pretty china plates with Ben's mum and dad. The verdict was a resounding "Yes!" But the question of whether or not the ricotta layer had to be in there was brought up? I decided to keep it as I really love the way it looks once sliced into but, by all means, it could just as easily be left out, if you so desired. As could the poached pears, however, they may just be my favourite part followed very closely by that golden, crunchy crumbly topping!

If you feel the need to be cocooned in your kitchen during these chilly days, poaching pears and licking spiced cake batter from the spoon then I can highly recommend giving this warming sweet treat a try.

Please let me know if you do, it brings such a smile to my face knowing that a recipe I have shared has been welcomed into your home, into your kitchen and perhaps shared amongst friends - if where you live at the moment you are allowed to do such things, and if not, then perhaps you could leave a few slices on your neighbours' doorstep. Whatever you decide, I hope that it brings comfort and that it satisfies a sweet craving in these challenging times.


Sticky date cake with poached pears and a sourdough crumb

Makes a 20cm cake

Don't let the extensive list here put you off, it really isn't a hard cake to make. It just asks you to give a little of your time.

For the cake

250g dates, pitted and chopped roughly

1 1/2 cups of milk

1 teaspoon bi-carb soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

2 free-range eggs, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour

For the poached pears

*I poached 6 pears in total, but the recipe only requires 3, however, they are quite handy to have stored in the fridge in their syrup to serve on top of porridge, or with a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of granola. Or you could use them in cakes or for a crumble for a quick dessert.

6 beurre bosc pears, peeled halved and cored

250g caster sugar

800ml water

cinnamon stick

2 star anise

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod used as well

a peeled rind from an orange

For the spiced sourdough crumb

2 - 3 slices of day-old sourdough

1/2 cup of hazelnuts

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

50g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the ricotta layer

250g ricotta

50g creme Fraiche

1 tablespoon brown sugar

the zest of an orange

1 tablespoon of poaching liquid

Firstly we will begin with the poached pears. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a large heavy-based pot over medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla seeds and pod and the orange rind, give this a stir and then carefully add the pears. Place a round circle of baking paper over the top and then cover and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes or until the pears are just tender when a knife is inserted. Remove the pears at this point and then bring the syrup up to a boil and reduce this down for about 15 minutes. Discard the aromatics and pour the syrup into a clean jar or container. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin with butter and baking paper, extending the paper 5cm above the rim.

Place the dates into a medium saucepan with the milk and cook until the milk is just about to reach boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the bi-carb. Be careful as it will rise so just keep stirring. Allow to sit while you get along with the rest of the recipe for now.

Break up the slices of bread into chunks and lay them out onto a lined baking tray, pop into the oven for about 8-10 minutes, or until golden and crusty. Place them into a blender and blitz until you have fine crumbs. Tip out into a bowl and then blitz the hazelnuts with the sugar and cinnamon until chopped coarsely. Pour these into the bowl with the crumbs and then using your fingertips, rub the butter into the ingredients until you end up with a crumble like topping. Set aside.

Now onto the ricotta filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth and then set this aside too. Now onto the cake...

Take your milk-soaked dates and pour these into a blender along with the vanilla and ginger and cinnamon and blend until smooth. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and creamy and then add the eggs, one at a time. Beating until incorporated. Fold through the sifted flour.5

Now comes the fun part. Pour half of the cake batter into your prepared tin, spread over the ricotta mixture using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to level it out. Place the pears, cut side up on top, pressing down only very slightly. Now spoon the rest of the cake batter over the top and smooth out, scatter over the sourdough crumb mix. At this point, the cake will almost be to the top of the tin but do not worry as the excess baking paper around the edge will stop it from overflowing!

Pop into your oven on the middle shelf and bake for an hour and 50 minutes (long and slow baking time), checking to make sure the top is not browning too much, if it is simply just cover with a sheet of foil. The cake should feel slightly firm to the touch once done. Allow to cool in the tin for at least 45 minutes before removing. It is lovely served still warm but it's just as good the following days. It will keep in the fridge for at least 5 days and could even be reheated in the microwave (if you have one)


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