Our travels are taking us north through Malaysia. We spent the weekend in a little wooden hut on the beach in the Perhentian Islands, sharing our temporary home with huge lizards and hundreds of mosquitos, falling asleep listening to the waves crashing onto the beach. Yesterday we swapped the sea for mountains and took a long bus ride up windy roads in the mountains of Malaysia’s interior. We’ve reached the Cameron Highlands, and suddenly it feels like it’s time to be thinking about autumny treats!
The air up here is much cooler, averaging between 10C and 21C. I’ve pulled my cosy jumper from the bottom of my rucksack, and I’m really looking forward to snuggling up into bed tonight, rather than trying desperately to stay cool under a fan. This afternoon we popped into a little cafe in what I think was once a church and ordered Malaysian coffees from their ‘hand warmer’ menu, and had them with buttery, crumbly scones.
The bus ride up took us up through green country, thick with palm trees. We wound further and further up into the hills, palms making way for ferns and mossy ground, then, from nowhere, the landscape filled with gardens, poly tunnels and rolling slopes covered with fresh green tea plantations. The climate here is perfectly suited to growing strawberries, tomatoes and tea and the areas motif seems to be the strawberry. Everywhere we look there are giant strawberry statues, pots of locally made strawberry jam, t-shirts emblazoned with strawberries, and plastic strawberries attached to any tacky souvenir item you could care to imagine.
You’d be forgiven for thinking, then, that today I’m going to bring you a strawberry recipe, but no. The cool, crisp, breathable air and the three layers I’ve pulled on to keep cosy are taking me to autumn.
This is a wonderful pudding to start autumn right. It’s chocolatey, fruity, nutty and so incredibly gooey.
I love the textures of the cake. The majority of moisture in the cake comes directly from the Nutella. The cake itself is made with Nutella in place of a large quantity of butter, and the only tweak I’ve made from the original BBC food recipe is to add additional spoons of Nutella in the middle of the cake. These spoons never quite bake into the cake, and will remain as deliciously chocolatly little pools even when the cake cools. You can never have too much Nutella.
In contrast to the smooth, moist cake you have the crisp bite of the pear, and a satisfying crunch from the hazelnuts.
Its delicious cooled completely, and served in thick slices alongside a cup of tea.
I love it straight from the oven too. You’ll have to scoop it out the tin with a spoon, but its beautiful served with a gently melting mound of vanilla ice cream. It would be perfect to finish off an autumnal Sunday roast, preferably after a good long walk in the cooling air.
Pear, Hazelnut and Nutella Cake
(adapted, slightly, from BBC food)
500g Nutella (or similar chocolate hazelnut spread)
50g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 large eggs
140g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder
2 large ripe pears
2 tablespoons apricot jam
50g whole hazelnuts
Pre-heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3.
Grease and line a 23cm round, springform cake tin.
In a large bowl, beat together 400g Nutella, eggs and butter until the mixture is smooth and starting to turn a little frothy. Electric beaters will speed up the process.
Sift together the flour and cocoa powder, then gently fold into the Nutella batter.
Pour half the mixture into the tin. Spoon over the remaining 100g of Nutella, making sure it’s evenly distributed, then top with the rest of the batter.
Peel, core and quarter your pears.
Cut 4 slits into each quarter, slicing into the round, fat part of the pear. Press down to gently fan out the slices. Arrange in a circle on the top of the cake, with the point of the pear aiming into the centre of the cake, and the large section of the pears around the edge. You don’t need to push the pears into the mixture, they should be sitting on top of the chocolate batter.
Heat the apricot jam in a pan until warm and smooth. Pass through a sieve, then brush the top of your pears. Set aside any remaining jam for later.
Sprinkle over your hazelnuts.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is risen and has a thin delicate crust. The middle of the cake should remain slightly soft, so take it out of the oven while it still has some wobble to it.
Heat the remaining apricot jam until it softens again, and brush the tops of the pears.This will stop the pears from discolouring.
Serve warm, or cool completely and cut into generous slices.