Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pear Hazelnut Torte

When it comes to cooking, I love to do things the good old fashioned way. That means even if I have to cream the life out of butter and sugar to make it 'light and fluffy', I'll roll up my sleeves and put that hand whisk to work. Kneading dough? Nah, put away the dough hook, all you need to enlist is just a pair of strong, soft hands. Coming into such intimate contact with your food also makes you appreciate and understand the different smells and textures of the produce you are using. It is truly a labour of love, and that's a romantic notion I'll gladly stick to.

This hazelnut pear torte however, almost made me cave in to the idea of getting an electric mixer. Yep, almost. I shall stand firm. At a friend's request, I agreed to whip up a birthday cake for a surprise party tonight. Since the birthday boy's Dutch, I wanted to do something almond based, but the curious cat in me couldn't help but be enticed by the little bag of hazelnutnut meal on the shelves. I've never tried cooking with this nut meal before, and if the success of Nutella and Ferro Rocher is anything to go by, I'm sure the humble hazelnut is as much loved as almond, right? Right. Wanting to work with something in season as well, pears were the natural pick.

Alas, my camera decided to play out on me right after taking these few photos, so I couldn't take any at the Spanish tapas resto we ended up at. We had a pretty awesome night - the food was aplenty, the liquids flowed freely and we even had a live flamenco performance! When the cake arrived, I swore I felt a tad jittery - after all this was something I never baked before! (Yes I wonder why I keep doing that) Turned out the last minute decision to put a good scattering of freshly pounded cardamom was a very good call. I am very much partial to cardamom these days and the fragrance was simply lovely. The cake was dense and had a slightly mealy texture interspersed with chunks of soft pears soaked in a little rum. I was told it's reminiscent of a Dutch cake called spekkoek, probably better known as kueh lapis, an Indonesian multilayer spice cake which I happen to be very fond of as well. I'm just happy that everyone liked the cake and am glad to say there were no leftovers!

For the recipe, I left out almost an entire half to three-quarter cup of flour/meal mixture which seemed way too much to me (it might be due to the eggs I used which were smaller). Which is just as well - I've already got plans to whip up another batch of these - juste pour moi! :)

Pear Hazelnut Torte
2 small pears (I used Packham)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup hazelnut meal
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or Chinese five spice (use whatever you have)
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tsps rum
5 cardamom pods (this is quite a lot - reduce if you don't like it too strong)
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Coarsely chop half of pears and in a bowl toss with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tsp rum. In another bowl, finely slice remaining pears and combine with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tsp of rum.

In a bowl whisk together hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, salt, and allspice. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition, and beat in vanilla and flour mixture until batter is just combined.

Drain chopped pears and stir into batter and spread evenly in pan.

Drain sliced pears and arrange in a concentric pattern over batter. Crush the cardamom pods slightly, remove the skins and pound the seeds to a fine powder. Scatter liberally over the pears. Bake torte in middle of oven 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. Cool torte in pan on a rack 30 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely. Dust with icing sugar if you wish.

Adapted from Gourmet.


Y said...

That torte looks delicious. I especially love the colours - all autumn/wintery. I like the sound of the spices as well.

Heather said...

WOW. that is beautiful!

Cynthia said...

ooh yes i do embrace this torte and all its comforting, spicy goodness :)

christie said...

Wow, those photos are fantastic. There's so many gorgeous pears around at the moment I think I should definitely give this a go.

Sophie said...

Your torte is beautiful, and the ingredients sound delicious! I'd like to include your adapted recipe on our blog, please email me if you're interested!

Happy Holidays,
Sophie, Key Ingredient Chief Blogger