Vegetarian recipe ideas
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Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line with baking paper. Beat together half (175g) the butter and half the sugar with an electric whisk until pale, then add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Mix in half of the vanilla, flour and spices, along with a small pinch of salt. Fold in half the nuts and divide the batter between the tins, smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until well risen and a skewer inserted into the middles comes out clean. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Clean the tins and repeat this step with the remaining sponge ingredients to make a total of four sponges.
Put the pears and all of the remaining poached pear ingredients in a small pan and top up with water to cover the pears if needed. Bring to a simmer over a low-medium heat, then cover and cook gently for 20-25 minutes or until the pears can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the pears using a slotted spoon to a plate lined with kitchen paper and leave to drain. Continue simmering the liquid, uncovered, until reduced by a third – it should be a light syrup. Leave to cool, then remove and discard the whole spices.
For the caramel, put all the ingredients in a small pan. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until thick and golden – it will thicken further as it cools. Cool completely and chill if it needs to thicken more.
For the mascarpone cream, whisk together the mascarpone, double cream, icing sugar and vanilla to soft peaks using an electric whisk – do this carefully, as the mixture will reach the soft peak stage quite quickly.
Set three of the pear halves aside and slice the rest. Brush each sponge with a little of the poaching syrup. Put one sponge on a cake stand or plate, spread with a third of the mascarpone cream (leaving a small gap at the edge to allow for spreading) and top with a few slices of pear and 1 tbsp of the caramel. Repeat twice, then top the cake with the remaining sponge, and drizzle with the remaining caramel so it drips down the sides. Top with more pecans and the reserved pears.