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.


Blackberry Buckle

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in Chatham, MA, this summer, and have stopped a few times at a local breakfast spot called Hangar B. It’s off the beaten path –  at the tiny airport in Chatham – but worth finding. All their food is great, but the real standouts are their incredible homemade baked goods and jams.

The blackberry jam in particular is so good that I wanted to find to way another way to eat it. Because spreading it on doughnuts with lemon curd just wasn’t enough.

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I played around with a number of different cake batters and crumbles, and this Blackberry Buckle finally hit all the marks. It’s a riff on traditional blueberry buckle, or coffee cake, with a jammy swirl running through the middle. The cake itself is moist and has just a hint of lemon. It’s basically a vehicle for the blackberries and crumble, but very good in its own right too.

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This is the kind of cake you could make for dessert, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or for breakfast, with a big mug of coffee. I would recommend serving it for dessert and then eating the leftovers before anyone else is awake the next morning.

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Use the best jam you can find for this cake- preferably one without a lot of “jiggle,” so to speak. I first tried this recipe with Hangar B’s blackberry jam and was very happy with the results, but I wanted to make sure the cake would be delicious with regular grocery store jam, too. I tried a few different kinds, and Bonne Maman and Hero blackberry preserves were by far the best.

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Blackberry Buckle

Ingredients

  • 1 cup blackberry jam
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries, divided
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt, such as Fage
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • crumble topping:
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 4 tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter and flour a 9” inch square baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the jam, 1 cup of the blackberries, and ½ tsp vanilla extract.  In another small bowl, make the crumble topping. Combine the flour, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, and pinch the ingredients together with your fingers until the mixture makes big crumbles. Set aside the jam mixture and crumble topping.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer),  cream the butter and the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the yogurt, lemon zest, and remaining 1 tsp vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and with the mixer on low speed, add it to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.
  5. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan, and spoon the jam mixture on top. Using a spatula, carefully spread the jam mixture to cover the entire surface of the batter. Add remaining cake batter in large spoonfuls and carefully smooth again. Don’t worry if the jam peeks through the top layer of batter in places.
  6. Sprinkle the crumble topping and remaining 1 cup blackberries on top and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and the center of the cake springs back under a light touch.
  7. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or at room temperature.