It was my dads birthday at the end of November and I created this cake especially for him. He shares my love of cake and so I really wanted to create him a cake using some flavours he might not have tasted before. I was originally hovering around the idea of beetroot, but I casually suggested beetroot flavoured desserts during conversation and he wasn’t keen so I knew I had to come up with something different. My next thought was something with some spice.
As I was hunting through our spice cupboard (we literally have an entire three shelved cupboard donated just to herbs, spices and seasonings) I came across some star anise I bought a few months back but have never done anything with. I gave it a sniff and the smell instantly reminded me of liquorice. I decided to see what would happen if I blitzed it in our spice grinder, seeds, husk and all.
I took the lid off the grinder and was hit with an intense spicy, liquorice, almost aniseed aroma that was just intoxicating. Wow – this could be fun! I decided to combine it with fresh pears and added the other spices to help mellow and balance the anise. I added a little extra flour to help combat the juices that were sure to seep out the pear during baking and used a mix of caster and soft brown sugar for flavour.
The cake baked up well and I loved how little chunks of pear poked out of the top and sides. I decided to use a simple plain buttercream to fill and top the cake as I wanted the cake layers themselves to be the stars of the show. However, I did use a recipe for evaporated milk buttercream that my grandmother gave me. It follows the same principles as standard buttercream only you use a tin of evaporated milk instead of regular milk. For some reason you can use a lot more of the evaporated milk than usual, without the buttercream turning runny. It seems to thicken up as you whisk it in creating a very light and creamy buttercream.
I went for a simple decoration by cutting the outline of a pear out of paper to create a stencil that I then dusted cinnamon over. I thought this looked quite stylish and hinted at what was inside the cake. The finished cake smelt divine, warm and spicy but in a different and slightly unusual way.
The cake cut easily and was much enjoyed by the family. As I hadn’t made it gluten free I had to sit there are watch them all eating it (so hard), but my reward came from the many groans and exclamations of appreciation I got from the tasters. The pear kept the cake wonderfully moist and everyone was so excited over the unusual spicing. They had fun guessing what it was and my dad guessed correctly in the end – well done dad!
They ate the cake over three days and I’m told that the spices developed even more the longer it stood, like a good gingerbread, and that it stayed fresh and moist thanks to the pear. I’m longing to try converting this recipe into a gluten free cake, and I’ll defiantly be using star anise again in the future.
Spiced Pear Cake with Star Anise (An Apple & Spice creation)
Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease two 8inch/20cm cake tins and line the bases with greaseproof paper.
Make sure your butter is softened and add to a bowl along with the flour, sugars, baking powder and spices.
Peel, core and finely dice the pear into 1-1.5cm cubes and set aside (you don’t have to be too precise).
Add the eggs to the dry mix and beat with an electric mixer until the batter starts to combine. Add the milk and beat again until the batter is smooth, light and well combined, about 1 minute.
Carefully fold in the diced pear using a spatula.
Divide the cake mix between the two cake tins and level the surface. Bake for 28-30 minutes until the cakes are lightly golden brown and springy to the touch when pressed in the centre.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before turning out of the pan and carefully peeling away the greaseproof paper. Leave to cool while you make the buttercream.
Make sure your butter is soft. Beat the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Sift over the icing sugar, half at a time and use a spatula to start to work the sugar into the butter. (Don’t go straight in with the whisk or else you’ll create a sugar dust cloud!)
Add a tablespoon of the milk to slacken, before adding the rest of the icing sugar and working it in with a spatula as before. Once the icing sugar is starting to form clumps with the butter, add another tablespoon of the evaporated milk and switch to the electric mixer. Beat until smooth and creamy.
With the electric mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the rest of the evaporated milk until you have a thick creamy buttercream. It may seem like a lot but it should take most of it – some icing sugars may take a little more or less so use your judgement.
Keep whisking until you have a smooth, light and creamy buttercream.
Place one of the cooled pear cake layers on a serving plate and cover with two-thirds of the buttercream. Top with the second layer of pear cake and use the remaining buttercream to cover the top of the cake.
Scatter the top of the cake with a light dusting of ground cinnamon, either all over or through a stencil to create a design (I made a pear outline stencil).
Serve in generous slices.
Makes one 8inch/20cm cake
*Note: If you don’t have a spice grinder to create your own star anise powder then simply crush two whole star anise and add them to the milk required in the cake mix. Heat the milk until it comes to the boil then remove it from the heat and leave to steep for 1 hour to allow the star anise flavour to permeate the milk. Then remove the star anise and use the scented milk as above.