I don’t know what’s happened. I just. Don’t. Know. It’s like my small brain has gone pewfrewyspliffsploff. It’s like a switch has flicked and the lights have gone off in one control room, and on in another (I like to think they’re fairy lights). Maybe it’s because it’s nearly Christmas. But no, that can’t be it. Because Christmas is the time when I cook. I cook and cook and I make all sorts of festively feasty foods.
What’s happened to me??
OK, so I think you may be confused. Let me explain. Looking through the photo folders on my PC and I look at December 2013: there are over 30 recipes. That’s 30 recipes that I photographed and set aside as potential blogging material, never mind the endless culinary creations that happened in between the blog-worthy stuff.
Jump forward a year and look at the recipes in my December 2014 folder: 0. A big, fat 0 recipes. November has 5, but 4 of those are incomplete. Incomplete?! What? WHY, Trixie? It’s as if I gave up with the camera half way through baking and just went ‘Meh. Who cares?’. But I care. I DO.
I’ll tell you one thing: it’s partly down to the light. Not only are there very few daylight hours at the moment but those that we do have are pretty gloomy, and the amount of brightness that reaches in through the small windows of our new kitchen is minimal. I have to pick up all my stuff and drag it to a table set up in the thoroughfare that is our hallway. It’s just plain offputting.
But the other thing is this: take a closer look at my December 2014 picture folders. I have 15 devoted to crafts; many of them new crafts for me, things like upcycling, decoupaging, machine sewing, stapling, printing, (basic) woodworking. I’ve always enjoyed being creative, but surely this is extreme, right? And what’s happened to my beloved baking?
I suppose if you want to do crafts, Christmas is a good time to do them (think presents!) and I expect when Christmas proper begins (like, on the 23rd) I’ll be in the kitchen beavering away, up to my eyes in brandy and cocktail sausages. But it makes it hard to write a food blog when you don’t have anything to write about.
Except that one recipe in November that I got round to finishing, the one that didn’t end up with a ‘meh … peeeeeeew kaput’. Hallelujah.
Luckily for me, it was good. It was a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-skirts kind of recipe: in principal it had to work (vanilla fruits and zesty shortbread crumble) but the methods were different to my usual crumble recipes as I roasted the fruit, pre-toasted the crumble and layered the elements up to make a fat wedge of sweet yumminess. There were no recipes in my research to back me, I just had to go for it.
Another lucky thing is that, despite being a November baby, this recipe is decidedly Christmassy. Comforting and fruity, with wintery warmth from the pears, vanilla and orange zest. I was lucky to still have summer-foraged blackberries in the freezer, but you could always replace them with stewy plums or something else that takes your fancy – try winging it a bit too.
Oh, and folks? Have a lovely Christmas!
This will feed about 6-8 people. Halve if you have fewer people.
For the filling
1kg conference pears (about 8 medium), just ripe (not rock solid, not soft)
75g soft light brown sugar
75g caster sugar
1-2 tsps vanilla extract
zest of 1/2 large orange
250g blackberries (from frozen or fresh)
For the shortbread crumble
300g plain flour
100g caster sugar
175g butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1/2 large orange
Pinch of salt
Begin by preparing the fruit. Peel the pears and cut them in half lengthways. Either with the tip of your knife or with a small teaspoon, remove the core from each half pear. Place the pears in a large bowl and add the sugars, vanilla and orange zest. Mix carefully to coat everything without damaging the pears.
Spread the pears out on a large baking sheet (this shouldn’t need greasing or lining) and place in a preheated oven at 200 C degrees fan (220 C conventional oven). Roast for about 40 minutes, turning them over a few times during this period and basting them with some of the sugar liquid from the tray.
Once roasted, the pears should be starting to caramelise around the edges. Most of the sugary liquid will have reduced so remove the pears to a bowl and pour a dash of boiling water into the baking tray (about 3 tbsps). Scrape around the tray to collect the residue (as if deglazing a pan) and tip this all into a mug or similar container. If the residue is really stuck you can return the tray (with water added) to the oven for a minute or two to loosen it. Reserve the sugar liquid for later.
While the pears roast, prepare the crumble. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and gently rub together with your fingertips until the mixture starts to clump.
Spread the crumble out on a baking sheet (this shouldn’t need greasing or lining) and bake on 180 C degrees fan oven (200 C conventional oven) for about 15 minutes, stirring up halfway through to make sure it colours evenly. It should be goldening at the edges but not be dark when you remove it from the oven. Leave to cool until you need it.
To assemble the dish, lay half the pears in an oven-proof dish so they sit neatly together with some gaps around them. Sprinkle over half the blackberries and half of the sugar water. Top with half of the crumble. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.
Cover the whole thing with foil and bake for about 30 minutes on 180 C degrees fan oven (200 C conventional) or until heated through. You may want to remove the foil for the last 5 – 10 minutes to allow the topping to crisp up.
Serve with cream or perhaps some orange zested crème fraîche.