You can make this on Christmas Eve, or even on Christmas Day, if time gets the better of you, but it will intensify in flavour if you can make it a week or so beforehand.
Preheat your oven to 170˚C fan-forced or 190˚C conventional. Grease and line two 18cm cake tins (with removable bases), you could also use one 26cm cake tin but I prefer the smaller cakes.
In a large, wide-based pot, combine the butter, sugar, dried and glacé fruits, spices, zest, bicarbonate of soda and Marsala, bring to the boil over medium heat and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
Add the eggs and almond essence to the fruit mix then stir in the flours until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin(s) and decorate with extra glacé cherries and blanched almonds. Bake for 90-100 minutes or until cooked (when a skewer comes out clean). Remove from the oven and pour 1 tablespoon of brandy, rum or Marsala over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, cool in its tin on a cake rack.
Bosc, or Beurré Bosc, pears are ideal cooking pears. They’re also great eating pears. They’re really good pears, either way. The Bosc is particularly good for baking, as it retains texture as the flavour and sweetness concentrate.
For the pears, in a large non-stick frying pan add the butter and sugar and melt over a high heat. Add the pears and brandy and toss to coat, reduce the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the pears start to give off some juice and are just tender, set aside.
Preheat the oven to 170°C fan-forced or 190°C conventional. Grease and line a 24cm spring-form cake tin.
In a mixer with a paddle beater add the butter and caster sugar and beat until light and silky. Add the eggs and mix until combined, then add the flour, ground almonds, bran and vanilla extract and mix until a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, lay the pear halves over the top, reserving the juices to drizzle over the cooked cake. Scatter over the flaked almonds and bake for 60 minutes or until golden.
Leave the cake to cool slightly before unmoulding. Serve warm with the pear juices drizzled over the top and with cream on the side.
Eat these pears on their own, or serve them with thick custard or mascarpone. They can also be served alongside cheesecake and vanilla icecream, or with a fancy biscuit in a pretty coupe glass to create a dressed-up dessert.
In a large saucepan, place red wine, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, bay leaf, fennel, rosemary, sugar, berries, rind and juice. Heat over a medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Peel the pears and remove the base core with a knife or melon baller. Leave the stem intact. As each pear is prepared, pop it into the poaching liquid.
Cut a piece of baking paper the same size as your pot and sit it on top of the pears to keep them submerged. Simmer over a very low heat for approximately 45 minutes, or until tender. Carefully lift the pears from the liquid.
Reduce the liquid by two-thirds to a light syrup, then pour it over the pears. Serve with thick cold custard or mascarpone.