Ginger cake laced with crystallised stem ginger, drizzled with salted caramel and topped with pears and a little gingerbread house!
For the poached pears, place the pears in a medium pan. Add the sugar, star anise, cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom, then add enough water to cover the pears. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until the pears are tender but not soft. Remove from the heat, drain and leave the pears to cool. When cold, trim the bases so the pears stand up.
For the sponges, heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Put the butter, sugar and treacle into a medium pan over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from the heat and set aside.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cinnamon and ginger together. Heat the milk in a small pan over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat, add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk until foamy.
Pour the warm butter mixture over the flour mixture and whisk together. Add the eggs and crystallised ginger, then whisk in the milk until smooth and just combined.
Immediately divide the mixture equally between the 3 lined tins and level with a palette knife. Bake for 25–35 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centres comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the salted caramel, put the sugar in a medium pan. Add 3 tablespoons of water and stir with your fingers until the mixture feels like wet sand. Place over a medium heat and cook, without stirring, to dissolve the sugar.
Increase the heat and boil to an amber caramel, swirling the pan occasionally. Do not stir. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream (take care – it might splatter). Add the salt, then set aside to cool. Once cool, refrigerate until cold.
Make the biscuit dough. Put the butter, sugar and molasses in a stand mixer fitted with the beater. Cream together until smooth. Add the egg and combine. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger and mix with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/Gas 5. Roll out the gingerbread dough on a lightly floured surface to ½cm thick.
Cut out shapes to make a ginger biscuit house (2 ends, 2 side walls, and 2 roof sides), measuring 4cm wide and 6cm high in total. Cut out a window and a door shape in one of the ends, then place all the house pieces on the lined baking sheet. Spoon the crushed boiled sweet in the window to make a pane.
Bake the biscuits for 6–8 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the oven and, using the baking paper, slide onto a wire rack to cool and harden.
For the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese together until just incorporated, then beat in the icing sugar until just thick and smooth. Spoon into a large disposable piping bag and snip to make a 2cm diameter hole in the end.
For the royal icing, lightly whisk the egg white until frothy. Then, add the icing sugar, a little at a time, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until you reach a piping consistency.
Spoon into a small piping bag fitted with a No.1 writing nozzle. When the biscuits are cooled, assemble the house using the royal icing as glue. Then, pipe an outline around the window and door, and pipe roof tiles on the top.
To assemble the cake, trim the sponges until level. Place one sponge on a cake stand and pipe over one third of the frosting and sprinkle over half of the walnuts. Place the second sponge on top and pipe over another one third of the frosting and sprinkle over most of the remaining walnuts, reserving a few for the top.
Place the last sponge on top and spread the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Spoon some caramel over the frosting and smooth over with a palette knife, allowing some to drip down the sides. Arrange the pears and the biscuit house on top and sprinkle around the reserved walnuts to finish.