For a spectacular 20+ years, fall has always summoned the return of school, an eagerly anticipated event (for the most part). Now I send my sweetheart off to school and get to stay home and dream up ways to make our haven a little more cozy when he arrives home after long hours spent preparing for comprehensive exams. As a child, when we lived in California; there the Autumn also summoned the return of rain. Mama would pull out the play dough toys and make a fresh batch of play dough to celebrate the first day of rain. There’s nothing like rolling and molding fresh warm play dough. Then we moved to Oregon; Fall became synonymous in my mind with warm spices and baked goods, having grown past the glee of play dough I traded it for real baked goods, the ones that make your house smell fresh and homey, that beg to be enjoyed with good company and steaming coffees and teas. I began in earnest to develop my tea party expertise and, when Autumn finally arrives, I can’t help but put it to use. Little Lu will be a tea party expert (as will his daddy) in no time at all. When I find myself wondering if tea parties are a bit girly for boys, I remember all the tea parties shared with my Mama’s best friend and her rollicking flock of five handsome lads who had as much fun at a finely set tea table as they did exploring the backyard.
This autumn I get to explore the amazing fall bounty through the fabulous recipes of Yossy Arefi (thanks to Allison) who sent “Sweeter off the Vine” my way in August. I am mid-adventure with an apple tart but my inaugural recipe was a wonderful Pear Cake. It is the perfect autumn dessert, studded with juicy pears and boasting the warm flavors of toasted nuts, it belongs on any tea table. My version swaps out hazelnuts for the chestnuts (not a chestnut to be found in my market). This necessitates a couple of extra steps, you must toast your nuts, and then grind them finely in a food processor/blender. But, on a positive note, it also means that you could make it in a bowl rather than a stand mixer, making it an accessible recipe to the mixerless provided they have a blender or food processor (the stand mixer paddle does the work of crumbling the chestnuts in Arefi’s recipe) Also, the hazelnuts have such a strong flavor that the walnuts (which add a nice texture to the cake) don’t add much additional flavor and could easily be omitted should you prefer the cake without nuts.
Love from CO,
Pear and Hazelnut Cake (1 9-inch cake, 8 generous slices)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, they do add a nice crunch though)
- 3 medium sized pears
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used cake flour, but it is absolutely unnecessary)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 oz. hazelnuts (I actually used 4 oz plus 1 ounce of walnuts, I was short a few hazelnuts)
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (I used a spring form pan but any round pan will do).
Arrange walnuts and hazelnuts in a single layer on separate baking sheets. Toast walnuts and hazelnuts for about 10 minutes, until walnuts are light brown and fragrant. Remove walnuts from the oven and continue to toast hazelnuts for 5-8 more minutes (you want them toasted all the way to their core but not burnt). Let walnuts cool to room temperature, stick hazelnuts in the freezer to speed up cooling (the must be completely cool before grinding).
When hazelnuts are cool, grind them in a food processor or blender until they are finely ground, but stop short before they turn into nut butter.
Peel, core, and chop the pears into 1/2-inch pieces. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
In a large bowl and using a hand mixer cream together butter, sugar, and ground hazelnuts on low until light and fluffy, this takes about 5 minutes (be patient). Add the eggs one at a time beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.
Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture until just combined, then fold in pears and walnuts (if using). The batter will be quite thick. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it out evenly with an offset spatula. Tap the pan gently on the counter to help the batter settle in the pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the edges are golden brown, 40-50 minutes (err on the longer side, my cake fell and the center was gummy at 40 minutes). Let cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Leftovers can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for two days (This is no joke, our final pieces on day 3 may have been developing some additional fermented flavors, you may have better luck storing extras well wrapped in the fridge).