‘Pears-a-poaching’ the last verse in this Christmas tale...  I wish it were twelve pears for the sake of consistency, but alas only five are a-poaching as more would make enough topping for a very large cake indeed!


(Serves 8-10)

  • 700g (approx. 5) small pears
  • 1 lemon
  • 100ml water
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 90g light brown sugar
  • 180g butter – cubed and softened + extra for greasing
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 175g plain flour
  • ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Just under 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • Just under 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 80g shelled pistachios – finely ground (this is most easily done using a food processor)
  • Icing sugar for dusting – optional 

Lemon Mascarpone Cream

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 125g mascarpone
  • 1½ tablespoons caster sugar
  • Juice and zest of ½ a small lemon

The flavours in this cake develop well with time, so it’s possible to make it in advance, and store wrapped in cling film for up to a couple of days.

If possible, it’s best to grind the whole spices for this cake yourself  – the flavours are so much more intense and less ‘dusty’ than with store-bought spices. Grinding the cardamom is easy – just pop the black seeds from the husk and grind away. The cloves are even easier still, just grind the whole spice to a fine powder.

First, peel the pears and immediately rub each, once peeled, with a cut lemon to stop the flesh from discolouring. Arrange upright in a saucepan, then squeeze the remaining juice from the lemon over the top of the pears. Pour 100ml of water into the base of the saucepan, add the caster sugar, cover with a lid, and place over low-medium heat. Poach the pears gently for up to 20 minutes, or until softened, but not falling apart.

Once cooked, carefully remove the pears to a chopping board, reserving the remaining poaching liquor in the pot.

When cool enough to touch, cut the pears into quarters, removing the core section from each, and slicing into thin slices 3-5mm thick, as evenly as possible.

Next, preheat the oven to 170°C.

Prepare a circular 23cm diameter x 3cm high removable-bottom cake tin by lining the base with kitchen paper. Grease the top of the paper lining, as well as the edges of the pan, with butter.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the caster sugar, brown sugar, and softened butter. Cream these together, using and electric mixer, until light and fluffy.

Next, break the eggs into a separate bowl, and lightly whisk the vanilla essence into these.

Now gradually add the egg mixture, in batches, to the creamed butter and sugar, whisking thoroughly to incorporate after each addition.

In a further bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, ground cloves, ground cardamom, and ground pistachios. Stir to through with a dry spoon to mix.

Fold the flour mixture gently into to the butter, sugar, and egg mixture in three instalments, continuing to fold until well combined. 

When ready, pour the batter into the prepared tin. Use a rubber spatula to evenly spread the mixture in order to create a level surface.

Next, retrieve the saucepan containing the poaching liquor – how is it looking? Depending on the heat at which you poached the pears initially, you’ll either have a sticky, thick syrup, a pourable syrup, or a runny fluid. A pourable syrup is ideal, so if yours is too thick, add a bit of water and place back over the heat to loosen, too liquid-y and you’ll need to place it over the heat to reduce to a syrup consistency. 

Gently arrange the pears on top of the batter in slightly overlapping layers of concentric circles, starting at the edge of the tin and working your way towards the centre.

When you've got the poaching syrup to the right consistency, finish by glazing the tops of the pears with a thin layer of this. 

Place the cake on a middle shelf of the oven to bake for 50 minutes, or until a inserted skewer comes out clean. Remember to allow the sufficient time to cool on a wire rack before attempting to remove from the tin.

To prepare the accompanying lemon mascarpone cream, add all the ingredients, with the exception of the lemon zest, to a bowl, and whisk using an electric mixer until the cream is softly whipped.

Dust the surface of the cake with icing sugar if you'd like, and serve, either warm, or at room temperature, with a dollop of the mascarpone cream and a little sprinkle of lemon zest on top.