Sparks is establishing a tradition of coming down sick soon after Thanksgiving, and as I type he is tucked miserably in bed with a bad cold that has been percolating for a week. I, sadly, have so far failed to catch it, but don’t lose hope, I’m doing my best. I am hoping to knock out the year’s Christmas cookies this weekend, so last night when it became apparent that Sparks really was going to be sick, I wanted to provide some yummy easy-to-eat carbs of the kind that are so important when one has a cold, and protect my cookie stash. Enter River Cottage Pear and Almond Cake.
Sparks and I, who both quite like the idea of having big gardens and small farms and growing and cooking and eating slow, whole food, have been watching what parts of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series we can get, recently. What a great show–like Martha Stewart, without the snobbery and smugness and shameless commercialism (yes, I have stopped subscribing to Martha Stewart Living. When “living” is about which $4000 handbag I should buy, I’m ready to stop Living). Hugh, for the uninitiated, is a “smallholder” who actually runs a media empire called River Cottage. He produces documentaries, television series, and books about farming, gardening, raising animals, and the subsequent processing of foodstuffs into tasty morsels. If you’re lucky enough to live in Devon, there are River Cottage classes, retreats, and canteens. But anyway:
This was the first River Cottage recipe I’ve tried, and OH MY if they’re all this good then I’m trying them all. This cake is dense and rustic… in the words of Becky from A Little Pricess, “these’ll just stay in yer stummick”. It has wholemeal flour and ground almonds in it, and because I had dried pears off our own pear trees sitting around, I put in dried pears soaked in brandy instead of fresh pears sauteed in sugar syrup. I’m sure Hugh would approve. The result is divine–the dried pears melted into the rest of the cake, and the grit of almonds and wholemeal disguises the grit of the pears, while the pears add to the flavor of the whole. Also, while the cake was baking it gave off a very particular, elusive aroma that I have only ever before smelled while passing certain mall coffee shops, and have always wondered what on earth could smell so good. The answer, I know now, is cooking ground almonds. I may put ground almonds in everything from now on.
I highly recommend this cake. It displaces all other coffee/snack cakes in my repertoire. And the picture of it? The picture of 3/8ths of the original cake? That’s because, eleven hours after it came out of the oven, that’s all that’s left.