Sloe and steady

Some­times it’s worth spend­ing a lot of time on a bake. Poach­ing pears in gin trans­forms them into a ready-made dessert that’s de­li­cious in its own right, but they re­ally shine as the sur­prise in­gre­di­ent in a cob­nut and po­lenta cake ...

The Guardian - Cook - - Baking - Claire Ptak

Cob­nuts, pears and sloes make for a special mar­riage of au­tumn flavours this week. Us­ing sloes from the hedgerow is the def­i­ni­tion of slow cook­ing, as they take months to cure in al­co­hol and sugar be­fore be­ing ready to drink or cook with. There are, of course some de­li­cious sloe gins on the mar­ket, so you won’t need to wait un­til next year to make these recipes, but I bet some of you have your own home­made sloe gin from last year, and I would love to know if you used some of it in these recipes.

I have cre­ated two recipes that are linked – in the first we cook the pears with un­usual and ex­cit­ing flavours for a dish that can be served in its own right. The sec­ond, how­ever, uses the cooked fruit of the first within its recipe — like a play within a play.

Poach­ing is easy and trans­forms un­der-ripened pears into something ex­cep­tional. The firm flesh of a Williams pear (called a Bartlett in North America) be­comes soft and silky in this prepa­ra­tion – poach­ing in al­co­hol adds a nice amount of bit­ter­ness to the del­i­cate fruit’s sweet per­fume. A hearty meal is fin­ished to perfection with one of these gin-poached pears, a driz­zle of honey and the re­duced poach­ing liq­uid. Of course, creme fraiche is al­ways wel­come with pears too. I like to poach ex­tra pears and use them in other recipes, as they keep well for a cou­ple of weeks in the fridge and I of­ten use the left­over poach­ing liq­uid in desserts or aper­i­tifs.

The sec­ond recipe uses the poached pears with fresh cob­nuts or hazel­nuts and fine po­lenta flour in a gluten-free cake. It could be made with fresh, ripe comice pears, but the sloe gin-poached pears work re­ally well here and the time and care you have put into bak­ing this cake shows in the eat­ing. Some­times the easy and fast recipe is not what you’re look­ing for. Some­times you want to take time over a bake, so I say: go all the way.

Sloe gin-poached pears

Makes600g sloe6 gin 600ml wa­ter 200g caster sugar 1 vanilla bean 6 pears Honey and creme fraiche, to serve

1 In a heavy-based pot just large enough to hold 6 pears, add the gin, wa­ter, sugar and vanilla. Heat slowly to dis­solve the sugar. Peel the pears whole, keep­ing the stem in­tact if pos­si­ble, and gen­tly lower them into the poach­ing liq­uid. Cook at a slow sim­mer (bub­bles no larger than of fizzy wa­ter) for 45 min­utes to an hour – they should be soft when pierced with the tip of a knife.

2 Del­i­cately lift the pears with a slot­ted spoon from the poach­ing liq­uid. Trim a few mil­lime­tres off their bot­toms to cre­ate a flat sur­face they can stand up­right on. Put the pot over a high heat and re­duce the poach­ing liq­uid by half. Serve the pears warm with driz­zled honey, creme fraiche and a spoon­ful of the re­duced poach­ing liq­uid.

3 To use the pears in bak­ing, let them cool com­pletely in the liq­uid. When ready, use ac­cord­ing to your recipe.

Pear and po­lenta cob­nut cake

Serves 8 But­ter, for greas­ing 150g cob­nuts, shelled (about 300g with shells) or hazel­nuts 140g fine po­lenta flour 40g tapi­oca flour (or corn­flour) 1 tsp bak­ing pow­der 1 tsp fine sea salt 6 poached pears (about 1.2kg) drained, re­serv­ing the liq­uid 125g un­salted but­ter, soft­ened 125g brown sugar 4 eggs A grat­ing of nut­meg 75g honey 1 Pre­heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3½. But­ter and line a 23cm cake tin with bak­ing parch­ment.

2 Toast the cob­nuts or hazel­nuts. Al­low them to cool com­pletely be­fore finely chop­ping.

3 Whisk to­gether the chopped nuts, po­lenta, tapi­oca flour, bak­ing pow­der and salt, then set aside.

4 Slice the poached pears in half, core them and cut each half into 4 wedges. Set these aside too.

5 In the bowl of an elec­tric mixer, beat the but­ter and sugar un­til pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then grate in the nut­meg.

6 Add the dry in­gre­di­ents to the wet, and mix un­til just com­bined. Scoop into the pre­pared tin and smooth the top. Ar­range the sliced pears on top and driz­zle with 50g of honey.

7 Bake for 1 hour or un­til golden and a skewer in­serted in the mid­dle comes out clean. Driz­zle with the re­main­ing honey. Serve warm, or at room tem­per­a­ture, with creme fraiche or on its own. Keeps in the fridge for up to three days.

Al­co­hol poach­ing liq­uids add a nice amount of bit­ter­ness to the del­i­cate fruit’s sweet per­fume ...

Cook’s tip In­ter­est­ing but con­cise tip to go in here and here Cook’s tip Fresh cob­nuts are de­li­cious, but take time to crack open. Shell them the night be­fore and keep them in the fridge so you can get on with bak­ing the next day.

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