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.


Grown-Up PB&J Pie

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I have to start by saying that of as last Saturday, this is no ordinary pie, but an award-winning pie. Specifically, it won “Most Beautiful Pie” at what is universally considered to be the Oscars of pie-baking: my friend Louisa’s second-annual pie competition.

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Let’s back up. The pie competition is a new tradition among my friends, but it has already become one of my favorites- I love the planning that goes into it, the brainstorming of crazy pie ideas and then finally, seeing what everyone comes up with. Did I mention we just stand around eating pie all night? That’s pretty great, too. Both years there have been a lot of inventive and delicious pies, and after coming in second in the ‘Best Savory Pie’ category last year, I was thirsty for a victory and determined to come up with a real showstopper this time around.

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So, I turned to one of the most beloved flavor duos out there, good ole’ pb&j. Who didn’t love creamy (or crunchy!) peanut butter with a thin (or thick!) layer of jelly on white bread as a kid? However picky you were about your pb&j’s in elementary school, I think everyone can agree that the combination is as much a crowd-pleaser now as it was in fifth grade.

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For my “grown-up” pb&j pie, I started with a graham cracker crust with a generous pinch of salt, and then I used natural peanut butter for the filling, which made it creamy and nutty but not too sweet. I topped the filling with a layer of tart raspberry jam, and then a nice thick layer of chocolate ganache. While definitely not traditional, the dark chocolate is pretty outrageous with both the raspberry jam and the peanut butter. And we were going for victory here!!

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Finally, the raspberries on top make the pie look very grown-up and sophisticated – and probably had a lot to do with it winning the Most Beautiful award. Oh, and lest you think this pie only looks the part, I should mention that it was also a runner-up for Best Sweet Pie. Not just a pretty face- I mean-pie…

Grown-Up PB&J Pie

  • Servings: One 9 inch Pie
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 crackers)
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup natural peanut butter, such as Justin’s
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream, divided
  • 1 cup raspberry jam, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, coarsely chopped
  • 2 half-pints fresh raspberries, for decoration

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. For the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, granulated sugar, butter, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a 9-inch pie pan. Using your hands, combine until the crumbs are moistened. Press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, making sure the crust is an even thickness throughout. (I use a measuring cup to gently press the crust, including the corners.) Bake for 10 minutes and allow to cool completely.
  3. For the peanut butter filling, beat the peanut butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed with a hand mixer for 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, whip ¾ cup of the heavy cream with a whisk or hand mixer until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold the cream into the peanut butter mixture with a rubber spatula.
  4. Pour the peanut butter filling into the cooled crust. Spread the raspberry jam evenly on the top of the filling, leaving a narrow border of peanut butter around the perimeter visible. Place the pie in the freezer for 15 minutes while you make the chocolate ganache layer.
  5. Place the chocolate and the remaining ¼ cup heavy cream into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, just until smooth. Pour the chocolate ganache onto the center of the pie and using a rubber spatula, carefully spread it to cover the jam, leaving a narrow border of peanut butter and raspberry jam visible.
  6. Arrange the raspberries on the ganache in concentric circles. Chill the pie for at least 2 hours and serve cold.

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On your mark, get set, PIE.