Recipe: This simple festive cake uses wintry ale and fresh fruit

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As a child growing up in Poland, pastry chef Agnieszka Furmanek learned to cook at her mother’s knee. After earning her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition and moving to Victoria two years ago, she found a place to share her love of rustic home cooking at Spinnakers Brewpub.

Photo by James McKenzie

This recipe for an almond cake with ale-poached pears is a twist on one of Furmanek’s favourites as a child. It’s a simple, delicious way to celebrate whatever fruit is in season, and best of all, you can dress it up as a fantastic dessert or keep it simple for an equally fantastic breakfast or coffee treat.

“When I was young, my mother had made a cake quite like this and wanted to cool it down quickly,” says Furmanek. “She took the cake outside, put it on a table then walked away. Our mischievous dog decided he wanted the cake and promptly jumped up on the table and ate the whole thing! All was not lost though, this recipe is so simple she was able to make another one within the hour and everyone was able to enjoy it—not just the dog.”

Photo by James McKenzie

Spinnakers’ You Otter Have Another Nut Brown Ale is a hugely food friendly beer, thanks to the use of roasted chocolate barley and Maris Otter malt.

“It gives it a biscuity, sweet flavour that really plays off the nuts, fruit and berries in this cake,” says Furmanek.

If there’s one rule when it comes to beer and dessert, avoid using hoppy beers, she says.

“Sweet things don’t like bitter things, typically. Think orange juice and toothpaste, yuck!”

Photo by James McKenzie

Almond Cake with ale-poached pears and blueberries, with Spinnakers You Otter Have Another Nut Brown Ale
By pastry chef Agnieszka Furmanek, Spinnakers Brewpub

Recipe good for one 10-inch cake.

Ingredients

For the poached pears

  • 4 pears
  • 200mL Spinnakers Nut Brown Ale
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

For the almond cake

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • Lemon zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream or yogurt
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond meal (fine ground almonds)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups blueberries (or whatever berry is in season)

Crumble topping

  • ¾ cup all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp almond meal
  • 3 tbsp white sugar
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ stick of butter (60 grams)

Directions

Poaching the pears

1. Peel the pears then cut in half and remove the core. Cut each half into half again.

2. Whisk together beer, sugar and nutmeg. Place pears in a pot that is large enough so that they aren’t too crowded. Pour beer mix over top. The beer should fully submerge the fruit, if it doesn’t, add water.

3. Simmer on low for approximately 15 minutes, do not overcook! You want the pears a little firm since you will be baking them as well. Retain the leftover poaching liquid. Pears can be poached a day a head.

Baking the cake

1. Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Mix butter, sugar and lemon zest either by hand or in a mixer.

2. After fully combined, add 1 egg at a time, ensuring that each egg is incorporated before you add the next one. Add the vanilla extract during this time. 

3. Once the eggs are fully combined, add the sour cream or yogurt. Set this batter aside.

4. Mix together all the dry ingredients except the blueberries. Whisk your dry ingredients and batter together until just combined.

5. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan and pour half of the batter into the bottom of the pan, then sprinkle half the blueberries over top.  6. Cover with the rest of the batter then top with the poached pear slices and the other half of the blueberries.

7. For the crumble topping, melt the butter and combine with the flour, almond meal, sugar and vanilla. Gentle spread the crumble on top of the berries and pears.

8. Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

9. While the cake is baking, place your pear poaching liquid in a small pot and reduce by half over high heat. This beer reduction can be used as a drizzle on the plate when you serve the cake.

10. Let the cake cool slightly before slicing and enjoy with vanilla ice cream and your pear/beer reduction.