Recently we stayed in a friend’s house in France while our kitchen floor in our own French home was being retiled. Retiling has meant removing the old kitchen and the staircase, rendering the house uninhabitable.
A ladder was in the place of the staircase for a while, until it came to the actual laying of the new floor, then that had to go as well. Because we had no kitchen and couldn’t get upstairs, we decided to move out, and our friends Tim and Gaynor kindly offered us the use of their house while they were away on holiday.
Cooking in someone else’s house is a challenge. Not an unpleasant one, I may add, but getting to grips with an unfamiliar oven and finding the right equipment makes for quite and adventure.
I found this very pretty plate in the cupboard with the dinner plates.
We were treading water for a while, with time on our hands, waiting for the building work to be finished, so I had the time to bake something nice. I found a copy of Good Housekeeping “Great Cakes” on Gaynor’s bookshelf and as I have the same book myself I decided to bake something I had had my eye on for a while - “Sticky pear and chocolate brownie cake”.
The cake turned out slightly less squidgy and brownie like than I expected, possibly because I forgot to set the timer and guessed! It was still delicious and definitely one I would make again.
The icing is simply made using icing sugar and coffee. The picture in the book shows it as a thick drizzle over the cake but for reasons that now escape me, I decided to brush it over the cake in an even layer, which didn’t look quite so good. In fact by the time the cake was cut it had crystallised slightly and looked even less attractive than when I took its picture above. I think that next time I will pour the icing over the cake just before it is served.
As soon as the kitchen floor was finished we moved back in amongst the dust and chaos to begin the next phase, which was to board over the remaining walls and fit plumbing, gas and an electricity supply, ready for the imminent arrival of the kitchen units from the UK. As soon as the lorry driver started unloading the pallets containing our beautiful brand new Magnet units I could see that something was wrong and my heart sank.
After everything we have done to the house so far – a new fosse septique, a new drive, a new kitchen floor, new walls, new doorway and, not least of all the choosing, designing and paying for a lovely new Magnet kitchen – you would think that simply getting the units shipped over here would be the easiest part. All they had to do was to secure them on pallets, put them onto a van and drive them here.
Unfortunately whoever loaded the pallets did a thoroughly incompetent job which meant that several of the units arrived broken. Cartons marked “fragile” and “this way up” had been laid on their side with other stuff piled on top of them. Someone had clearly driven the forks of a fork lift into two of the base units, smashing them. Then they rewrapped them in cling film so the damage was not apparent until the whole pallet was unpacked. What kind of person would do that?
Replacements have been ordered but I wouldn’t trust Europa Worldwide to arrange the delivery of anything I ever want to see in one piece again, so we are fetching them ourselves. Which unfortunately means yet another unscheduled and costly twelve hour each way journey across the channel (fourteen hours in fact with a trailer) that we really didn’t want to have to make. Thank you, Europa Worldwide.
Our temporary new kitchen. The gaps are where the damaged units should have gone, thanks to the idiot with the fork lift.
We have fitted the items salvaged from the wreckage of the delivery, added some temporary cheap worktops to perch the sink and hob on top of, so that at least we can function for a week or two until the new items arrive. Meanwhile we are claiming for the damage on Europa’s insurance. In my opinion insurance should be against accidents, not negligence or incompetence, which is what caused the damage to our kitchen units. No accident occurred other than being in the hands of some bonehead intent on wrecking our valuable property and then hiding the evidence.
275g plain chocolate
75g pecan nuts (or walnuts)
125g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
½tsp vanilla extract
1tblsp strong black coffee
75g self raising flour
3 large ripe pears
For the icing
75g icing sugar
2tblsp strong black coffee
Make yourself a cup of strong black coffee. Don’t drink it – allow it to go cold.
Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170°fan / gas mk 5. Grease and line the base of a 23cm round baking tin or dish with baking paper.
Chop the nuts and 75g of the chocolate and set aside.
Put the remaining 200g of chocolate with the butter into a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Heat gently until melted, stirring occasionally and set aside to cool slightly.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and 1tblsp of the coffee. Add the melted chocolate and beat again. Fold in the flour, chopped nuts and chopped chocolate.
Peel, core and quarter the pears and arrange in the prepared dish or tin, laying the pears with the narrow end towards the centre. Pour over the chocolate mixture.
Bake for 60 minutes, covering lightly with foil half way through.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes then invert onto a cake plate. Remove the baking paper and leave to cool completely.
Before serving, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add 2tblsp coffee and beat until smooth. Add a little more coffee or water if necessary. Drizzle over the cake.
Cuts into 8-10 slices.