Flavour combinations are an important component in the professional cook's repertoire.
One of my first memories of this was when I was a young apprentice and the head chef put together a few combinations that sounded strange - watermelon and feta cheese, strawberries and black pepper, and the excellent pairing of pears and chocolate.
The pear and hazelnut cake is a delicious version of this combination. This moist cake brings together the flavours of pears, hazelnuts and chocolate. The hazelnuts can be swapped for almonds, and pears for apples, if you prefer.
Pears were originally grown near the Caspian Sea before spreading to Asia, then the rest of the world. Although it has never been as popular as the apple, the pear is one of my favourite temperate fruits, partly because it is so versatile and complements savoury foods such as cheese.
The pear chutney is fantastic with cured meats, hard cheeses and smoked fish, which works well with the spicy ginger flavours.
Pear and hazelnut cake
100g blanched hazelnuts
140g self-raising flour
175g butter, cut into small pieces
140g brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3 semi-ripe packham pears
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
Preheat the oven to 140C for fan-forced (160C conventional). Butter and line the base of a 25 x 11-centimetre loaf cake tin with baking paper. Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fairly fine. Add the flour and mix briefly. Add the butter and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the sugar and eggs and mix briefly. Peel, core and chop one-and-a-half pears into a small dice. Stir the pears and chocolate lightly into the cake mixture. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Peel, core and slice the remaining pears and arrange on the top of the cake. Press down lightly and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold.
Pear and ginger chutney
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp rosemary, finely chopped
150g brown sugar
400ml cider vinegar
50g fresh ginger, finely sliced
800g pears, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the rosemary, sultanas and sugar, and fry until the fruit begins to caramelise. Add the vinegar and boil on a high heat for three minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Because of the fruit, this chutney has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan, so stir it well and keep an eye on it. Don’t let the pears cook too much; they should keep their shape. Spoon it into clean hot jars, filling them as full as you can, and seal while hot. Store in thefridge.
Makes 3 x 350ml jars
Don't use fully ripe pears for cooking, as they will fall apart. You need them slightly firm.