I realise this is a little late, being the day after the occasion, but yesterday was Mother’s Day here in Australia and New Zealand. Like all major holidays now, it is heavily commercially driven – shopping centres were packed with families buying flowers and treats, and baby pink Mother’s Day specials are heavily advertised- but the premise remains. Mine was in another country, but I did get a call from one of my brothers – “Claudia! What cake should I make for Mum?!”. My brothers very rarely put anything in the oven, so this is a rare phone call. One is just starting to master chocolate self-saucing pudding, largely provoked by self-interest – now that I am no longer living at home, no one else will be making dessert! Dad even produces the occasional fruit crumble, missing the after-dinner sugar fix.
It was my mother and grandmother who started me baking. I was always interested in food, as the baby constantly grasping at whatever my parents were eating and the toddler that would climb into the cupboards of strangers in search of cookies, but they gave me the initial boost, the tools to make my own. Mum’s double chocolate muffins were a staple lunch box item – the simple mix of wet and dry, yogurt and butter with cocoa and flour, eating as many chocolate chips as possible on the way. Lemon yogurt cake was another favourite – everything into a food processor and poured into a old dented ring tin, the fluffy, zesty batter always exploding out the top for a very rustic finished product.
With Grandma it was jam stars, a basic shortbread dough cut into squares, jam dolloped in the middle and corners folded in with sticky fingers. I ventured on from there – chocolate chip cookies after school age 8, frequent french toast breakfasts, my neiman-marcus cookies in high school (nicknamed ‘Claudia cookies’ by friends), weekend breakfasts, and onto tarts and layer cakes later. I had a little notebook of handwritten recipes in wonky 12 year old script, pages stained with various unknown foods and added to with enthusiasm. I moved onto a bigger ring binder, filled with pages of photocopied recipes from cookbooks I loaned from the local library – soon the binder began exploding with the sheer thickness of paper, and there was no way I could ever try them all. The current version had to be carefully pared back and refined – I did not need 15 different versions of brownie, as good as they all looked. Old baking tins of my Dad’s mother are still used often – I sometimes wonder what she used them for, what her favourites were.
Mum isn’t a huge breakfast-in-bed person, preferring to get up and exercise before her daily fruit and muesli, so when I made these a few weeks ago on holiday it was a decadent lunch time treat. She was an outstanding hand model for these shots though! And to mum, when you read this – honestly, you couldn’t be more supportive, generous, and generally amazing, and as I get older, my appreciation for how much you do for us four only grows.
As I type this, it is bucketing down with rain on the thin roof, the windows are just beginning to fog, and although it is midday, the grey dreary skies necessitate lights inside. Ideal weather for these sticky date pancakes with butterscotch sauce & roasted pears. Light and fluffy thanks to beaten egg white, and warmly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, the pancakes are enriched with a sticky date paste to make a brunch version of the classic pudding. Roasted pears are tender and just caramelised, but if berries are in season try them for a fresh, cool contrast. Warm butterscotch sauce is poured over the top, dripping over the edges and encircling the pancakes in a sweet toffee caramel pool.
The pancake recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi’s Sweet Potato Pancakes, substituting a homemade date paste and adjusting quantities for a flippable pancake batter. That brief inspiration turned out better than expected – a thick, pillowy pancake studded with date chunks that really isn’t too difficult or time-consuming to make. No one in my family could turn them down!
- 200g dates, chopped
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup water
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ cups flour (200g), sifted
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
- ⅔ cup milk
- 40g butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- icing sugar, to dust
- 65g butter
- 100g brown sugar
- 140ml cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- salt to taste
- 3-4 beurre bosc pears
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 200°C.
- Halve and core the pears, and quarter them if large. Place in a roasting dish big enough to hold them in a single layer. Combine the melted butter & sugar and pour over the pears. Toss to coat. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until golden and tender. They may need longer if unripe to start with.
- Make the butterscotch sauce: combine the butter, brown sugar, cream and vanilla in a small pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, the butter has melted and the sauce just starts to thicken. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
- In a small pot, combine the chopped dates, baking soda and ½ cup water. Cook over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the dates go mushy and form almost a paste with the water. Stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t catch. Remove from the heat and put in the fridge to cool.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.
- In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, melted butter and vanilla essence.
- Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and stir to just combine. Fold in the date paste to just combine.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks (but not dry). In two batches, gently fold into the date mixture.
- Heat a large frying pan (or 2, for faster cooking!) over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp butter to grease. When the butter starts to foam, ladle about ¼ cup of the pancake batter into the pan (cook about 3 at a time depending on the size of your pan). Cook for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown underneath (they are pretty soft so can be tricky to flip!).
- Transfer to a warm plate while you cook the rest.
- To serve, place a couple of pancakes on each plate and arrange the roast pears on top. Drizzle with warm butterscotch sauce and dust with icing sugar