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This delicately-spiced celebration cake makes the perfect alternative to traditional Christmas pudding. However, don't restrict it to Christmas day; it is so easy to make and delicious to eat that you will want to serve it at any number of festive gatherings.

Happy Christmas. E.L.

Spiced Pear Christmas Crown Cake - Serves 6-8

This cake can be cooked a few days in advance or cooked and frozen for use at a later date. It is best served slightly warm.

7 spiced poached pears (see recipe below)
175g butter, softened to room temperature
250g caster sugar
75g soft brown sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
40g ground almonds
zest of one large orange
150ml milk
To finish: icing sugar and Christmas (Lebkuchen) Spice Mix (see recipe below)


Heat the oven to 180ºC / Fan-assisted 160ºC / Gas 4. Grease and line a 22cm spring-sided cake tin.

Place the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer for five minutes, so that the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. When thoroughly mixed add the flour, ground almonds and milk and beat again for a further 3 minutes.

Spread about one third of the mixture into the base of the prepared tin, then arrange the pears, stalk side up, in a circle, about 2cm in from the edge of the tin. Try and have all the stalks pointing outwards – like the points of a crown. Carefully spoon the remaining cake mixture around the pears, so that the tips and stalks of the pears are still visible.

Bake in the centre of the oven for one hour, checking after 10 minutes so that you can straighten any pear stalks that may have keeled over as the batter begins to soften. After one hour, cover loosely with a sheet of foil and cook for a further half an hour. Test with a skewer and cook for a further 10
minutes, if necessary.

Cool slightly and dust liberally with icing sugar and Christmas (Lebkuchen) Spice Mix before serving.

 
Christmas Spiced poached Pears - Serves 7

7 small conference pears
600ml water
200ml granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Christmas Spice Mix (recipe below)
Juice of 1 small lemon
4 strips orange peel
a small bunch of thyme
To serve: brandy-flavoured cream, small bay leaves


Mix the vinegar, oil, seasoning and herbs in a large bowl. Prepare the apple and toss in the dressing. Add the cabbage, walnuts and cranberries and mix it all well. Adjust seasoning.

 
Christmas (Lebkuchen) Spice Mix

Every Christmas I make this mix of ground spices and store them in a jar. The flavour and aroma of this spice mix is so reminiscent of the wonderful Lebkuchen (are they a biscuit or a cake?) that my Grandmother would have sent from Germany. This is a really useful spice mix to have ready at Christmas time and can be used in all sorts of ways to add that special Christmas element to many recipes. Try it sprinkled with sugar on mince pies and shortbread, or add some to braised red cabbage or stir-fried kale with crispy bacon.

4 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp each: ground ginger, ground cardamom, ground allspice, ground cloves and ground coriander
½ tsp ground nutmeg


Mix together and store in an airtight jar.