Spiced Pear Butter and Hazelnut Praline Cake

Spiced Pear Butter and Hazelnut Praline Cake (gluten-free)
This cake has become one of my favourite cakes of the season and is an absolute winner on my cake stall on a Sunday. It’s one of those all-rounder cakes which is good any time of the day; for breakfast, elevenses or a tea-time treat. It’s also elevated by the fact that it is gluten-free and dairy-free so it is perfectly amenable to the most common of food intolerances. I even had a lady come to my stall on Sunday who couldn’t eat any fat and this one perfectly ticked the box for that dietary requirement too. And did I mention that it’s deliciously moist, packed full of spicy fruity flavour and gilded with a crunchy golden praline too? Well it is.

Spiced Pear Butter and Hazelnut Praline Cake

Although my experiments with gluten-free flour and gluten substitutions are ongoing, I have found that my most successful gluten-free cakes are the one that are created without any thought at all in the direction of flour. I know of one cake company that specialises in ‘accidently gluten-free’ cakes which I think is a lovely way of describing that their cakes were never intended to go anywhere near gluten in the first place. These cakes have an identity of their own, without feeling like inferior substitutes of the real thing.

The secret ingredient of this cake, well actually it’s not so secret as I’ve put it right there in the title of the recipe, is a spiced pear butter. You may recall a couple of weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about the apple butter I used as the main ingredient of my Toffee Apple Cupcakes, well this pear butter is made in much the same way and is just as delicious. It feels almost criminal to take the pear butter and use is solely for this cake, despite how wonderful the cake is, but don’t worry I’ve amped up the quantities of the butter in the recipe below so it should be enough to make two cakes, or you can use the rest to spread on a crumpet, dollop on your granola with a bit of yoghurt or even serve with your Sunday roasted pork joint. These are round and about the same uses I suggested for your apple butter, if the ideas were good the first time then I have no problem in recycling them.

The pear butter replaces the fat in the cake and is whizzed up with egg yolks and sugar to form the base of the batter. Ground hazelnuts, which I ground myself by whizzing up roasted and blanched hazelnuts in the food processor, are used to thicken the batter and give it body. Then finally, whisked and stiffened egg whites are folded in to aerate the batter and to ensure the height of the cake is kept during the bake.

Spiced Pear Butter and Hazelnut Praline Cake

Now this cake cannot help but sink a little in the middle during the end of the bake, do not fear this is natural, and once it is decorated with the hazelnut praline and icing then it’s not noticeable at all. However, I have found a way of slightly counteracting how much the cake sinks by, and this is a new trick that I have incorporated into a lot of my cakes recently, including my brownies and my loaf cakes. To ensure an even bake you want to forget about the ubiquitous 180°C that is bandied around in recipes. In fact I went to a culinary salon with Rosie Lovell who suggested that 180°C is entirely too high and when she submitted her first book to her publishers she had to fight with them to maintain all her recipes at 170°C. It seems that the food industry is reticent to change but I agree entirely with her. In fact, for some of my cakes, like this one, I would even take it further. I like to bake this cake at 150°C for the first 10 minutes, then turn the temperature up to 160°C for the next 40 minutes until the cake is risen, is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. There is nothing wrong with low and slow as far as baking goes, not all our cakes have to be in and out of the oven in half an hour. The only thing I would say about this method is to check the cake after the first 20 minutes and you’ll probably notice that it’s reached its colour peak. So just cover the top of the cake with a bit of domed tin foil for the rest of the time to ensure that it doesn’t burn.

Spiced Pear Butter and Hazelnut Praline Cake

200g pear butter (recipe below)
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g golden caster sugar
250g ground hazelnuts
1 tablespoon baking powder

For the hazelnut praline:
2 tablespoons caster sugar
50g roasted and skinned hazelnuts

For the glaze:
125g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons almond milk

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C and line and grease a 20cm round cake tin.
  2. Whisk up the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak and set aside.
  3. Beat the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until pale and thick.
  4. Mix in the pear butter.
  5. Add the ground hazelnuts and baking powder. Mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  6. Stir a third of the whites into the batter to slacken it off, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 10 minutes, turn the oven up to 160°C and continue baking for around 40 minutes until firm to the touch and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Once the cake is ready, remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the cake tin before removing.
  9. To make the hazelnut praline heat the caster sugar in a medium sized saucepan, without stirring, until it has all melted and is turning a golden brown. Very quickly add the hazelnuts, turning in the melted sugar, then pour out onto baking parchment.
  10. Leave the praline for about 5 minutes until just cool enough to handle then pull the nuts apart so that the caramelised sugar is pulled into strands. Then roughly chop some of the hazelnuts. Sprinkle the whole nut praline and the chopped nuts onto the top of the cake.
  11. To make the glaze mix the icing sugar with the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of the almond milk. Add some more almond milk if needed until the icing is just runny enough to drop over the cake. Decorate the cake with the icing any way you would like.

Pear butter
6 soft conference pears
200ml perry or pear cider
2 tablespoons of brandy
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon allspice

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients, and stir to combine. Cover the saucepan, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the pears are soft.
  2. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 170°C.
  3. Once the pears are soft, then blend the pears and cooking liquid together until completely smooth.
  4. Pour into a deep roasting tray and place in the oven.
  5. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes with a fork until the butter is dark and as thick as clotted cream.
  6. Allow to cool then place in the fridge to chill until needed.

Toffee Apple Cupcakes

Never let it be said I don’t go the extra mile for cupcakes. Especially these Toffee Apple Cupcakes. At first glance the recipe might seem a little involved but every single step will be worth it in the end my friend.

Toffee Apple Cupcakes

One of the core ingredients is apple butter – it helps that I made a huge batch of the stuff a couple of months ago when the apples were falling off the trees in the local parks. I took a carrier bag along and scooped them all up. There was no question with what I would do with all of them as apple butter is one of my absolute favourite foods. It combines all of the best toasted flavours of autumn. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, honey, muscovado sugar, apple cider and brandy are all boiled up with peeled, cored and diced apples. Once the apples are soft, then the whole lot is blitzed in the blender and tipped into a roasting dish. The chestnut brown apple puree is then baked low and slow in the oven for a few hours until the colour turns to the bark of an old oak tree, the flavours have caramelised and intensified and your whole kitchen is scented with the most glorious warmth of spiced apples. The puree will become so thick that you could stand a teaspoon up in it and that is when you know it is done.

I had so many apples that I felt just like Diane Keaton from Baby Boom as each jar was carefully filled and labeled. Unfortunately I only kept a couple of jars for myself, the rest has been stored away for me to sell at my preserves stalls which I will be doing around Christmas. So this week, feeling a bit down in the dumps from using up the last of my preciously allocated jars, I did what any normal person would do when they are desperate to make toffee apple cupcakes but have run out of apple butter. I made one single batch, especially for the cupcakes.

Toffee Apple Cupcakes

Actually it’s not too labour intensive once you have prepared the apples and you will only need to do about six for the amount of apple butter you need. Then the rest is just flinging things in the pan and then the oven. The smaller batch of apple butter only takes about 1½ hours from start to finish, and most of that is just the apples doing their thing whilst you are having a cup of tea or flicking through a magazine so I assure you the effort is no effort at all.

Toffee Apple Cupcakes

Apple butter does not only have to be used for these cupcakes though, in fact it’s a travesty if you don’t do what I did the first time I was given a jar by a friend which is to eat it straight from the jar with a teaspoon. It is also wonderful on toast, croissants, scones, accompanied with shortbread, whipped up with double cream and used as a cake filling, baked into tarts and especially eaten with roast pork. The uses are an endless, and I’m sure as soon as you’ve tried it you will be making excuses to include it in every meal.

Toffee Apple Cupcakes

The apple butter is not the only bit of apple going on in these cupcakes though, I also diced up a bramley apple and caramelised it with a touch of sugar and butter then folded the pieces through the batter at the end. Where the apple butter provided a light moist sponge, the pieces of bramley act as a dose of sharp sweetness in the middle of the toasty apple flavours. It’s pure Autumn in a cupcake.

For the cupcakes I photographed I forgot to reserve some pieces of caramelised bramley for sprinking on the top of the buttercream so if you remember I would also recommend dong that.

I also made my own toffee sauce for this, which I whipped up into some swiss meringue buttercream, but if you can’t be bothered then I recommend using dulce de leche instead. It’s a bit thicker and will do fine in the buttercream but may need to be thinned slightly by warming with a splash of milk for drizzling purposes.

Oh, and again, if you can’t be bothered to make these at all then I will be presenting them at my cake stall on Sunday at Falkland Road Market N8. Don’t say I don’t spoil you.

Toffee Apple Cupcakes

Toffee Apple Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

1 bramley apple, cut into small chunks
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon butter
125g flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
85g unsalted butter
140g caster sugar
1 egg
200g apple butter (recipe below)

  1. Firstly, prepare your caramelised apple pieces. Heat the teaspoon of caster sugar and butter in a frying pan and add the bramley apple. Stir until the sugar and butter have melted together and cook for 5 minutes until the apple is still firm but just beginning to colour. Remove from the heat and cool.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake cases.
  3. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and spices in a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar on the high setting of your food mixer until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the egg to the creamed butter and sugar and mix in well.
  6. Add the flour mixture alternately with the apple butter, adding the flour in three additions and the apple butter in two (begin and end with the flour), scrape down the sides of the bowls as needed and mix until just combined.
  7. Finally stir in the pieces of bramley apple until evenly dispersed and portion out into the cupcake cases.
  8. Bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack completely before icing.

Apple Butter

6 apples, peeled, cored and diced (mixture of sweet and sour like Bramley and Cox)
150ml apple cider
2 tablespoons of brandy
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark brown soft sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and stir. Cover the saucepan, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the apples are cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 170°C.
  3. Once the apples are soft, pour the mixture into a blender and whizz up until smooth. Pour into a shallow baking tray and place in the oven.
  4. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes, scraping down all the sides, until the butter is dark and thick.
  5. Allow to cool, then chill until needed.

Toffee Buttercream

4 tablespoons evaporated milk
3 tablespoons dark brown soft sugar
50g butter
3 egg whites (90g)
150g caster sugar
210g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. To make the toffee sauce melt together in a small saucepan the evaporated milk, brown sugar and butter. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.
  2. To make the swiss meringue buttercream, begin by heating the egg whites and caster sugar in a bain marie, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the temperature has reached 71°C.
  3. Remove the egg whites and sugar from the heat and pour into a stand mixer with whisk attachment. Whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  4. Change the attachment to a paddle attachment. On a low speed add the butter slowly cube by cube. When you have almost added all the butter the mixture will look curdled. Do not fret – this is supposed to happen and just means you are nearly done. Just continue to add all the butter. Once the butter is totally incorporated the frosting will miraculously become a smooth velvety consistency.
  5. Add the salt and the vanilla extract.
  6. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the toffee sauce, but add the rest to the buttercream, mixing in until thoroughly incorporated.
  7. Pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes then drizzle with the rest of the cooled toffee sauce.
  8. If you have any pieces of dried apple or reserved caramelised bramley apple then use those to decorate the top.