While South Africa is cooling down and Europe is warming up, this spiced cardamom pear bundt cake is perfect for drizzly weekend baking.
For one, I’ve moved to Italy. Florence in particular, to pursue an intensive year in classical fine art training at The Florence Academy of Art. Pretty much everything is new and exciting and I am shocked at how 6 months here have already been sharpened, dusted and sketched away. I’ve moved into an apartment with two pretty neat individuals. Who are both extremely intelligent, interesting and hardworking artists in their own right. Both ladies are bakers (lucky me!). Illana is from Philly and is a badbass bread bae and bakes up loaves every Sunday to see her through the week’s lunches. Alice is form Perth and has the most fascinating knowledge of South East Asian cuisine and Japanese mochi! She is making red bean paste from scratch so that we can make wagashi mochi and I can’t wait for that. I didn’t know what mochi even were before chatting to her and now, having stalked them extensively online, I am pretty obsessed with ensuring mine and Julz’s next holiday is spent in Japan having tea ceremonies and steaming in outdoor hot baths like fat little sweet buns.
OH! Another pretty major development I almost forgot to mention: I’M TOTALLY ENGAGED! I will hopefully have the time to write a more extensive post about the happenings of the best 2 weeks following a morning apartment treasure hunt that ended in a sparkly diamond ring and two kids crying on a bed. We headed home to see our family the next day and every single day leading up to and after Christmas was plump with love. We even got two sneaky engagement do’s thrown for us by both Julz’s family and mine. There was a lot of champagne glass clinking and cake eating and before I knew it, it was 2017 and we were on a plane over to Firenze to start a brand new fresh chapter in the chronicles of the baking artist and the dj-ing lawyer!
Julz stayed for the first two weeks but had to return back to Cape Town so all the eating and wondering we did together in those 2 weeks have converted into therapy baking sessions on Sundays with my roomie Alice.
This past weekend was a perfectly Italian one.
I started off the week feeling pretty sorry for myself, having woken up sick as a poodle on Tuesday after only the first day of matches for our inter-school soccer tournament. So I had to miss the following two days of playing, which really bummed me out. I sent chocolate chip cookies for the team in my absence. I started to swing back into shape by the end of the week and have been moved onto my first charcoal Bargue (drawing copy ) at school so things were looking good. After Friday evenings History of Art lecture by Tom Richards I came home and pinned a bunch of recipes for lemon olive oil cakes because I have been dying to try invent an artichoke cake while here. The produce is so amazingly fresh and full of taste that I am blown away on the reg by some pretty simple and humble little items in the Italian markets and supermarkets. Pears are on top of my shopping list lately. They are bursting with juiciness and sweetness and are crunchy and soft at the same time. There are a couple varieties but I like the pale green fat ones that looks like strong little boulders bustling with pear punches! I have also fallen deeply in love with a yellowy green version that is rounded and always sold with a spot of red wax melted over the stalk. I am in love with this little manicure that shines like a beady seal of approval and often drips down in a little whisper onto the pear. They are called Passe Crassane and are apparently hand stamped with a glob of sealing wax to prevent the loss of moisture through the “pedoncle” which would lead to early ripening. Either way, they are unbelievably sweet and the juiciest pears I have every tasted so I knew I wanted to use them as much as I could in cakes and baking while I am here.
I woke up yawing Saturday morning (after the recipe pin turned into a 4am internet/tripadvisor/airbnb/pinterest black hole) to an invitation from my roommate Alice to join her and some peeps from school on a day trip to Arezzo for its famous once-a-month antique market. We glugged down some hot coffee and set about meeting the others, jumping on a bus and then a train over to Arezzo. The Tuscan landscapes and little rivers and hills that the passed looked extra vivid green in the glowing light between storm clouds. It started to rain and when our train slugged up to the platform in Arezzo we found a perfectly glossy cobblestone square handsomely lined with shops. Luckily Camilla, Allesandro’s girlfriend, who actually was from Arezzo knew just the spot for us to wait out the rain and grab a steaming hot handful of food to curb our grumbling midday stomachs. We ducked into a local little café specializing in (what must be the world’s freshest) piadinas. I opted for a 4 euro smoked cheese, red radicchio, olive oil and eggplant winner while Alice took the popular option of rocket with some very fresh soft white cheese that seemed all at once a sauce and a cheese unto itself. We shared bites on each other’s and gobbled up every last morsel of the blistered bread and its wrapped up precious cargo. A quick cappuccino at the next coffee bar and we were ready to brave the antique stalls, come rain or shine.
Rain came. And we continued on! The stalls are set up snaking along the winding streets of Arezzo. 1 out of 5 had their wares completely covered up by plastic sheets to protect from the constant drizzle which was just as well because I was already scheming up of the loans I could take out to own ALL the Italian blue and white porcelain tea sets, copper bundt cake tins and pewter ware as it was. We sauntered along store by store, Diana and I squealing at every utterance of pale pink and blue Rococo style frame, powder box or teacup. We were dragged away and made it just in time to check out the Cathedral to see some incredible frescoes.
Outside, I bagged a ceramic clamshell wall vase for 5 euros, a neat white linen lace apron for 4 and a coupe of pink headscarves for 3 euros each. Once the vintage sellers began to pack up their wares, we hopped on the train back to Florence, discussing the academy, painting and where we’d like to travel to next. Alice and I arrived home, slightly damp, full-bellied and softly happy with the world. I wanted to get baking and had one cakey thought on my mind: this spiced pear bundt cake! We ate it with small cups of white tea and discussed uninvented mochi!
Cardamom, Almond & Pear Bundt Cake:
(makes one large bundt cake serving )
375 ml butter, melted
200g white sugar
200g dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups of white flour
2/3 sweet pears, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
5 split cardamom pods worth of seeds ( optional for extra cardamom punch)
80g almonds chopped
2 tablespoons milk
splash of dark strong coffee
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
generous pinch of salt ( omit if butter is salted)
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Brush budnt tin with butter and coat with loose flour.
- Beat butter and sugar in an electric beater.
- Beat in eggs and vanilla, then add splash of coffee.
- In a separate bowl sift all dry ingredients plus spices and add to butter mixture slowly and a little at a time.
- Once the batter is just incorporated add chopped almonds and pear cubes and fold gently.
- Carefully scoop batter into the bundt tin and smooth the top, leveling the batter.
- Place in oven on middle wrack and bake for 70 to 80 minutes.
- When you press the cake and it bounces back and you can smell it in the kitchen, it’s ready!
- Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes before flipping it onto a plate.
- Dust the top with powdered sugar before serving.