Brown sugar sponge cake with caramel pears


  • Serves 10 people

  • 12 eggs, at room temperature
  • 160 gm each brown sugar and caster sugar
  • Scraped seeds of 2 vanilla beans
  • 300 gm plain flour, triple-sieved
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 120 gm butter, melted and cooled
  • 700 gm crème fraîche
  • 100 ml pouring cream
  • 30 gm pure icing sugar, sieved, plus extra for dusting
  • Caramel pears
  • 750 gm caster sugar
  • Juice and thinly peeled rind of 1½ lemons and 1½ oranges
  • 2 each cinnamon quills and star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 10 small ripe corella pears, peeled, halved, cores removed with a melon baller
  • 120 ml dessert wine
  • 90 ml pouring cream
  • 30 gm butter, coarsely chopped
01   Preheat oven to 180C. Whisk eggs, sugars and half the vanilla seeds on high speed in an electric mixer until mixture is tripled in volume and holds a trail (10-12 minutes). Transfer to a large bowl, sift over flour and baking powder in two batches, gently fold to combine, then fold in butter. Divide among 4 buttered and floured 20cm-diameter cake tins lined with baking paper on the bases and bake, swapping tins halfway through cooking (see note), until cakes are dark golden and centres spring back when gently pressed (15-20 minutes). Cool slightly in tins, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.
02   Meanwhile, for caramel pears, combine sugar, rinds, juices, spices, vanilla bean and seeds and 1 litre water in a large saucepan, stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Add pears, cover closely with a round of baking paper, weight with a plate and bring to the simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook until just tender (20-25 minutes). Remove pears from liquid (set aside), then strain cooking liquid into a large deep-sided frying pan and simmer over medium-high heat until mixture turns caramel (25-35 minutes). Add dessert wine, cream and butter (be careful as hot caramel may spit), then stir until combined. Add pears to pan and cook, spooning caramel over pears until glazed (2-3 minutes), then set aside.
03   Whisk crème fraîche, cream, icing sugar and remaining vanilla seeds in a bowl until firm peaks form (2-3 minutes). Refrigerate until required.
04   To serve, place one cake on a serving plate, spread with a third of the crème fraîche mixture. Repeat with remaining cakes and crème fraîche mixture, finishing with a cake. Dust with icing sugar and serve with caramel pears and syrup.
Note A freshly baked sponge cake is a thing of beauty, but we all need to get ahead sometimes. If you prefer to make the cake a day in advance, brush each layer generously with eau de vie de poire - it'll moisten the cake and add another element of pear to the dish. You can also poach the pears several days in advance and caramelise them on the day of serving. If you don't have four 20cm cake tins, or your oven isn't large enough to cook all the cakes at once, make and cook half a batch of the cake mixture at a time.

This recipe is from the August 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.



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