When I first tried to make this cake, I put the pears on top of the batter and baked for 90 minutes. It was delicious and the cake looked very attractive, but since the pears were on top, and the cake has risen substantially, there wasn’t a piece of pear in every bite. That wasn’t good enough! So I decided to lay the pears in the middle of the cake. That worked best! A final sprinkling of ground hazelnuts is all this cake needs.
- 2 digestive biscuits or graham crackers, or any plain vanilla cookie
- 1 cup hazelnuts plus ¼ cup extra
- 3 pears
- 2 Tbs lemon juice
- 250 grams unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup milk
Preheat oven to 160 C. Place hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 9-10 minutes, until fragrant. Take hazelnuts out of the pan and into a clean kitchen towel. Rub nuts using the kitchen towel, so that the skins come off. Don’t be too fussy, it doesn’t really matter if you still have some skin on the nuts. Put one cup of these nuts in a blender and pulse until finely ground. Don’t over do it, otherwise nuts will become oily. Leave aside in a bowl until needed. Put the remaining nuts in the blender and pulse until coarsely ground. Put in a different bowl and leave until needed.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch (22,5 cm) round cake pan, with removable sides. Line bottom with parchment paper and butter again. Put the biscuits in a small plastic bag and crush them by bashing them with a rolling pin or mallet. Sprinkle biscuit crumbs in the cake pan so that they adhere on the sides and bottom. Discard excess.
Increase oven temperature to 175 C. Peel and core the pears and cut in 16 slices each (what I do is quarter them first, peel and core each quarter, then cut 4 slices). Put in a bowl and mix with the lemon juice and ¼ cup of the brown sugar. Put everything in a frying pan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cook pears, undisturbed, until soft (about 5 minutes depending on how ripe they are). Take pan off the heat and leave aside. Pears will be cooked but there will still be liquid in the pan. You will use that later.
Sift together the flour with the baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix in the finely ground hazelnuts.
In a bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with the granulated sugar and the remaining ¼ cup brown sugar, until fluffy. Add vanilla and then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Lower the speed of the mixer and add the milk and half the flour mixture. Beat until combined. Add the remaining flour and beat until just combined.
Put 2/3 of the cake batter in the prepared pan. With a fork, put the pear slices on top, overlapping slightly. Keep the pear juices in a small bowl. Top with the remaining batter, spreading to cover the pears. Bake for 1 hour and 10-15 minutes, until cake is well risen and cooked through (test with a skewer).
As soon as cake comes out of the oven brush with the pear juices and sprinkle with the remaining, coarsely ground hazelnuts. Cool in the pan, about 10 minutes and then remove sides of the cake pan, by first running a knife or a small spatula all the way around the cake. Leave to cool completely before transferring on a round platter. Sprinkle with icing sugar if you like and eat a large piece with freshly brewed coffee or tea.