Right now in New Zealand we are deep in the middle of winter school holidays. I secretly love the cold weather because we tuck up, cosy and warm and my teenagers are more inclined to give me long couch snuggles. But let’s face it, when it’s cold outside the kids are constantly hungry!
I always try to cook with seasonal produce wherever possible and at the moment pears are in abundance at the markets. They are equally delicious fresh or cooked, and when dressed up with gingery spices I always think of winter warmth. And snuggles!
When I developed this recipe I found it was a huge hit with kids, partly because of the novelty factor of how it looks when you cut it, but also because it has a lovely moist texture and not ‘too much spice!’. Settle in for an afternoon of baking and serve this warm for dessert, you won’t be disappointed. It is also lovely cold the next day, spread with butter. Even for breakfast. Just saying.
Nutritionally it checks all the boxes; it uses natural ingredients and is low G.I so won’t cause any blood sugar spikes (i.e, no bouncing off the walls after a piece of this before bed!). It is very low in gluten, easy on tummies, and packed full of vitamins and minerals that are calming and sustaining. This loaf is comfort food on its very best behaviour!
The Star Ingredients
Pears – Why?
Pears are in season in Autumn and Winter and have a heap of health benefits to help ward off colds. High in potassium, vitamin A, C and K, pears are great for immunity building and infection fighting. They are also high in fibre which is great for digestion and helps us to feel ‘full’.
Spelt Flour – Why?
Spelt is a grain that is in the wheat family, and has sometimes been described as wheat’s cousin. It has been cultivated for centuries, in both central Europe and the Middle East. It has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor, similar to that of whole wheat flour. It does contain some gluten, but a lot less than our standard wheat four, and many people who complain of feeling heavy after eating wheat can tolerate spelt really well. It is easily digested, which is great for kids who may be prone to nervous sore tummies or irritability.
Almond Meal – why?
High in protein and low in sugars. That gives it two massive ticks from me. Almond meal is also an excellent source of vitamin E, vitamin B’s, and contains several key minerals for bone development including calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Coconut Oil – why?
Coconut oil comes from the most nutrient dense part of the coconut. It is solid at room temperature like butter but doesn’t become unstable when heated or become rancid like many oils do. It is very high in lauric acid, which is found in abundance in human breast milk. It helps the body increase immunity and fight disease. Good fats are important for kids’ energy levels, muscles and brain development so it’s good to try and include some in every meal.
Coconut Nectar – why?
Coconut nectar is a syrup that comes from the blossoms of a coconut palm. It is very low glycemic (G.I of only 35), and a great source of minerals, amino acids, vitamin C, vitamin B’s, and has a nearly neutral pH. It is produced at a low heat meaning it maintains all the enzymes that would be killed off with heat processing. I highly recommend it on pancakes! Coconut nectar makes a good alternative to golden syrup or molasses, which would normally be included in a gingerbread recipe. As it is lighter in flavour however, I added some raw cacao powder to the ingredients to give more depth to the finished product.
Coconut Sugar – why?
I love coconut sugar! It has the same amount of calories as table sugar but is way better for our bodies. It is low in fructose and low g.i which means it won’t make blood sugar levels rise and then crash suddenly, and this makes it perfect for kids. It is a much less refined product than standard sugar, as it is simply made from the boiled and dehydrated sap of the coconut palm.
Vanilla – why?
Mostly because it makes baking taste and smell amazing! But also because vanilla is calming and may even have a mild soporific effect. This makes it ideal for use in a before bed treat. Nutritionally vanilla is also a good source of manganese, copper and vitamin B2.
For the poached pears:
3 whole, fresh pears
water to cover
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1 vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 strip orange or lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
For the ginger bread:
1 3/4 cup white spelt flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 Tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup coconut nectar (or honey or maple syrup).
1 cup almond milk (or other milk of your choice).
1 vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To poach the pears:
1. Peel the pears, leaving the stalks intact. Core the pears from underneath, using a paring knife. Slice a little off the bottom of each pear so they will sit flat in the saucepan.
2. Place the pears in a small saucepan and just cover with water. Add the coconut sugar, peel, vanilla and cinnamon stick.
3. Bring to the boil then simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes.
4. Remove the poached pears using a slotted spoon and leave on the bench to cool slightly.
HINT: poached pears are a lovely dessert in their own right, especially teamed with a scoop of healthy ice-cream (future recipe to come!).
To make the gingerbread:
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl until combined.
3. Heat the coconut oil gently to liquify (either microwave briefly or stand in a bowl of hot water).
4. In another bowl whisk the eggs together.
5. Add the coconut oil, coconut nectar, almond milk and vanilla. Whisk until light and creamy.
6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, folding gently with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over mix.
7. Line a full size loaf tin with baking paper then pour in the gingerbread batter.
8. Pat the pears dry with a paper towel, then gently lay them sideways in a row in the batter. Try to leave a few cm space between them and alternate the side that each pear stalk rests on – see photo! The pears won’t be fully covered but the batter will rise around them as it cooks.
8. Bake for around 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted between two pears comes out clean.
Enjoy, with snuggles!
(ps: my three year old buddy Rowan says it’s delicious!)