Pear and Hazelnut Cake

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I know, these next few weeks are supposed to be all about pies. But does the world really need another recipe for pumpkin or pecan pie? Don’t get me wrong, I love both of them, (especially cold out of the fridge the morning after Thanksgiving) but I thought it would be more fun to come up with a new take on fall flavors than trying to reinvent the proverbial Thanksgiving wheel. 

This Pear and Hazelnut Cake has been my little baking project this fall, and I’m really excited to share the final recipe with you. It’s a versatile cake that would be as welcome on a weeknight or Sunday afternoon as it would be at a dinner party or holiday table. The pears make for a dramatic presentation, but because this cake is baked “upside-down” and then flipped before serving, making that pretty pear pattern couldn’t be easier.

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Pear and hazelnuts go really well together- the flavors complement each other and neither one overpowers the other. And without the addition of traditional fall spices, which have a way of making everything taste the same (ahem, pumpkin spice) the pear and hazelnut flavors are really clear. The addition of browned butter to the cake adds another layer of nuttiness, and somehow the batter ends up tasting just like toasted marshmallows and hazelnuts. Mmm.

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I use Bosc pears because they have a beautiful long pear shape, and they don’t get as soft and juicy as other pears do when they’re ripe. This makes them less ideal for eating raw, but for perfect for baking. If the pears are rock hard at the store, I let them sit on the counter for a few days to ripen before using them. The pears go into the pan over a mixture of butter, dark brown sugar and maple syrup and are perfectly tender and subtly sweet when the cake comes out. 

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Now, I know not everyone hosts or attends the sort of Thanksgiving where non-traditional desserts are welcome, and I understand that. It’s the one time of year we fill a plate with four kinds of pie while explaining that this is the one time of year we get to eat these pies. It’s a great tradition. But I still think this cake would be a terrific  addition to any Thanksgiving dessert spread. And I can say from experience that it, too, is even better eaten out of the fridge the next morning…

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Pear and Hazelnut Cake

Ingredients

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 ripe Bosc pears
1 cup raw hazelnuts, finely ground in a food processor
½ cup all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
unsweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a small sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-low heat and cook until golden brown flecks form all around the edges of the pan. Watch the butter carefully because it will burn quickly! Remove the pan from the heat and using a rubber spatula, scrape the browned butter into a small bowl to cool, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar and stir to combine. Using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cut pears in half through the stem. Trim the stems and carefully core the pears with a melon baller or teaspoon. Cut two 1/2-inch thick slices (lengthwise) from each half so you end up with 4 slices from each pear. Artfully arrange the pears, cut sides down, on top of the butter mixture.

In a small bowl, combine the ground hazelnuts, flour and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (hand mixer works, too!), beat the egg whites and granulated sugar until the egg whites form firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the browned butter, then the nut/flour mixture, until just combined. Transfer the batter to the pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake is lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool for five minutes and then carefully invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with unsweetened whipped cream.

Note: To make unsweetened whipped cream, whip 1 cup cold heavy cream with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or in large mixing bowl using a hand mixer. Whip until just firm and serve immediately.


Easy Apple Hand Pies

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Last weekend I went up to Hudson, New York with my boyfriend, Joe, and some friends, for a little leaf peeping and obligatory Instagramming.  We ended up being there just in time, as a big storm came and took most of the leaves down, but not before we had a perfect fall day. (See photos of friends drinking cider while wearing hats.)  For me, a perfect fall day includes a little seasonal baking project, but it does not include spending the a beautiful October day in the kitchen.

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I had ambitions to make an apple pie, but without my usual kitchen setup, and without feeling like taking on the ordeal of making homemade pie crust, I decided to use store bought puff pastry to make these Easy Apple Hand Pies instead. Ina uses puff pastry for everything from delicate tarts to savory hors d’oeuvres to empanadas- it’s buttery and flaky and SO easy to work with. All you have to do is defrost it, unfold the sheets, roll ’em out, and you’re ready to go. In a pinch, I even used a wine bottle to roll out the puff pastry sheets. Turns out it works just as well, minus the floury wine label.

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These pies deliver all of the warm apple and cinnamon goodness of a traditional apple pie but take about an hour to make, from start to finish. There’s also a serious “wow factor”- individual pies are impressive, and it’s your choice whether or not to admit how easy they were to make. They travel well and are great warm or at room temperature, but since people aren’t really eating hand pies on the go very often, I highly recommend serving them warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Michelle and Tom drink cider and eat pies.
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Winkie ponders whether there are actual cats in the Catskills.

Easy Apple Hand Pies

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 3 crisp apples, such as Macoun or Jonagold, cored and cut into ¾” dice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbs all purpose flour
  • 1 package (17.3 ounces/2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tbs water, for egg wash
  • 1 tbs turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the apples have softened and released their juices.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice and flour in a small bowl and stir to the dissolve the flour.
  4. Remove the apples from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and flour mixture. Pour the apple mixture into a medium bowl and set aside to cool while you prepare the pastry.
  5. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry on a floured cutting board. Roll the sheet into a 12-inch square with a rolling pin. With a sharp paring knife, cut four 5-inch circles from the pastry, using a dish as a guide and discarding the scraps.
  6. Place ¼ cup of the filling on one side of each circle, leaving a border around the edge of each circle. Brush the edges of the circles with the egg wash and fold over, making half circles. Crimp the edges together with the tines of a fork. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry. Place pies on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and chill for 15 minutes. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle with the turbinado sugar, and make 3 small slits in each pie to allow steam to escape. Bake for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.
  7. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or at room temperature.