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.


Harvest Pear & Ginger Muffins

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Fall is here! It’s time to break out the flannel shirts and SOCKS (always one of my favorite things about the return to colder weather) and more importantly, it’s finally cool enough to get back in the kitchen and turn on the oven.

The first thing I’ll be making are these Harvest Pear & Ginger Muffins. The quintessential fall muffin, they are moist and packed with spices- ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom- along with chunks of pear, golden raisins and crystallized ginger for a little extra zing.

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A great tip I learned from Ina is that adding a generous splash of the right liqueur, or in this case, liquor, can really enhance the flavor in a baked good or dessert. Warming up the pears and raisins in bourbon plumps up the raisins and makes the pears even juicier, and what’s a fall treat without a little bourbon?

Thanks to the Greek yogurt and molasses in the batter, these muffins are incredibly moist, BUT as with any muffin or cake recipe, it’s crucial not to overmix the batter (you’ll end up with tough muffins) or overbake (the muffins will be dry.)  So basically, do less, and you’ll do great!

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Finally, like avocados, pears tend to be rock hard at the grocery store, so find the ripest ones you can, and let them sit on the counter for a day or two if possible. I found that Bartlett pears (red Bartlett pears are beautiful if you can find them) work the best for this recipe, but ripeness is more important than variety here.

Happy Fall!

Harvest Pear & Ginger Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups diced Bartlett pear (2 small)
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 7 oz whole-milk Greek yogurt, such as Fage
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/3 cup minced dried crystallized ginger, plus extra for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place 12 paper liners in a standard muffin pan.
  2. Combine the pears, raisins and bourbon in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, remove from heat and set aside. (Alternatively, combine the pears, raisins and bourbon in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds and set aside.)
  3. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, molasses, honey, egg and vanilla and whisk until combined.  Add the raisins and pears (with the extra liquid), and the crystallized ginger, and mix until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and 1/3 cup crystallized ginger. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. Don’t over-mix!
  5. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each cup almost to the top. Sprinkle each muffin with a little crystallized ginger and bake for about 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for five minutes, then remove muffins from the pan. Repeat with remaining muffin batter.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.