Tag Archives: hazelnut

Hande’s pear, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Pear, choc, hazelnut cake, with clotted cream

Hande Leimer is the founder and owner of Vino Roma, a wine studio – with an absurdly historic cellar – located in the centre of Rome. Not only is she an expert sommelier and polyglot wine educator, she’s an excellent cook too. And baker. When she posted a pic of her pear, chocolate and hazelnut cake on her Instagram a few weeks ago, I had to try it.

These three ingredients make for a classic combination. I’ve always loved pear and chocolate, and indeed pear with chocolate sauce was a pudding I grew up with. But I also love anything made with ground nuts, so this really was a cake for me. Furthermore, Hande developed the recipe with the aim of balancing them, so no flavour dominated the other but each was clear and evident. The individual flavours are sharpened and delineated further with the judicious inclusion of some hot spice.

She included piment d’espelette / esplenette pepper, but as that’s not easy to source in the UK, changing that is one of the tweaks I made. I think Hande also made hers in a loaf tin, but I favoured a round tin.

I suspect my version is a little moister than Hande’s. I used local Concorde pears (a hybrid of Conference and Comice), which were firmly ripe, but still added a fair bit of moisture to the mix. Hande said “I aimed for a batter that is not too runny but not too stiff either, when you pour it into the pan it does hold for a couple of seconds before gently flowing to all corners”, giving an optional 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs if your batter was too runny. I didn’t do this, but instead increased the flour slightly.

I also suspect I assembled mine in a different manner to Hande, but it’s one of those forgiving batters where the ingredients could be combined in various orders. It’s not the sort of cake where you’re trying to achieve a super-light texture, instead it’s got a texture that’s defined by the nuts – crunchy, slightly oily – and the pears – moist, with the whole concoction shot through with bursts of dark chocolate.

500g pear
125g hazelnuts
100g dark choc (at least 70% cocoa solids)
115g unsalted butter, melted
70g light muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt1
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper and a few grinds of black pepper
130g plain/all-purpose flour, or low protein 00
2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Grease and line a 20cm round tin.
2. Preheat oven to 180C.
Skinning hazelnuts
3. Lightly toast the hazelnuts, rub off the skins (using a tea towel or cloth; I wasn’t too assiduous about this – too many skins can be bitter, but a little adds flavour) and grind in a food processor to a medium meal.
4. Coarsely chop the dark chocolate.
Peeling pears
5. Pear, core and coarsely grate the pear.
6. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and spices to mix.
7. In a large bowl, beat together the sugars and melted butter. Add the egg, vanilla and pinch of salt and beat again to blend.
8. Add the nut meal, pear and chocolate to the bowl and combine.
9. Fold in the flour.
10. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
11. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until firm to the touch and lightly browned.
12. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out. Serve warm with cream2 or ice cream, or allow to cool completely. Hande had hers for breakfast. But then she lives in Rome and the sort of cake us Brits would treat as a tea-time treat or pudding gets eaten for breakfast there.

 

 

Notes
1 So yes, I’ve made a point of saying “unsalted butter” then added a pinch of salt. Why? Well, salt is essential for all foods, unless you have no sense of taste or somehow like your food bland. Put simply, it’s the ultimate flavour enhancer, so even sweets – especially sweets like this with a variety of flavoursome components – benefit from a bit of salt. A pinch. Too much and you may get a salty taste, but too little and it won’t be there to do its work. In the words of renowned London-based chocolatier and pâtissier Paul A Young salt “lifts and balances the sweetness and brings out other flavours.” I have used salted butter in cakes in the past, especially when I’ve not got any unsalted, but the problem with that is that you can’t control the quantity effectively as you can’t be sure how much salt is already in the butter. So it might seem perverse to use unsalted butter then add salt to the mix, but there’s a logic to it!
2 We had clotted cream. I could eat the stuff every day… if I was a bit more blithe about my arteries.

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Brutti ma buoni, mark III

Brutti 3, plate

This is the third recipe for brutti ma buoni – Italian “ugly but good” hazelnut cookies.

It’s very different to the others I’ve tried, or read, as it doesn’t involve whisking the egg whites. All the other recipes I’ve seen involve whisked egg whites, resulting in cookies with a meringue or macaroon-type character. Not these, which are still delicous, but much more crunchy little lumps, reminiscent of coconut macaroons, unlike the more disc-like previous version I tried, or the knobbly mounds of the first recipe I tried.

So many variations with so few variables!

Anyway, this recipe is from my favourite baker, Dan Lepard (whose personal site is still pending an update; it’s been down for yonks now, sadly!). His recipes in the Guardian newspaper are almost always reliable, and I recommend the book that collects them, Short and Sweet. I also heartily recommend his bread book, The Handmade Loaf. Of the three recipes I’ve tried for brutti ma buoni, however, I must admit this is my least favourite: I just prefer the texture when the egg whites are whisked.

The full recipe, along with Dan L’s panettone recipe, is available here.

Brutti 3, baking sheet

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Brutti ma buoni

Brutti ma buoni

The easiest way to describe Brutti ma buoni (“ugly but good”) is as nut meringue cookies. All the ones I’ve encountered in Rome have been made with hazelnuts, and many of the recipes online seem to be also. But there’s also a variant made with almonds.

Italian Wikipedia says they’re also called Bruttibuoni, made with almonds and are from Prato in Tuscany. I suspect a lot of other Italians might take issue with that though, as they do seem to be a fairly widespread. Indeed, a bit more googling, and another source claims they’re from Varese, in Lombardy, north of Milan. Yet another calls them Brut ma bon (a more French-sounding dialect name) and gets even more specific about their origin: not just Varese, but Gavirate, a town in the vicinity of Varese.

Hazelnuts reading for roasting

Whatever the history, bottom line is that they’re a meringue-type cookie (ie made with egg whites, no fat and little or no flour) that are rich in chopped nuts. Heck, even us Brits have a traditional hazelnut meringue, so I’m really not sure it’s the sort of recipe anyone can really stake a claim to.

I decided to make some as we had some egg whites left in the fridge from making custard. The recipe I used is from Biscotti: Recipes From The Kitchen Of The American Academy In Rome. It’s the third recipe I’ve tried from there following the wonderful Honey and farro cookies, and the Pinolate (pine nut cookies). I need to try the latter again before I blog it as my first batch wasn’t quite right.

Chopping nuts

Anyway. While baking these this morning, I looked around to compare recipes, and – would you Adam and Eve it – my favourite baker Dan Lepard published his recipe a few weeks ago in The Guardian. It’s an indication that despite how basic these cookies may be, there are several approaches to the method. His doesn’t require the eat whites to be beaten, uses pre-skinned hazelnuts, and involves combining all the ingredients in a saucepan. I will have to try that for comparison. One day. Not today. Not when I’ve already got 30 biscuits cooling in the kitchen. Another recipe, from a Canadian cookbook, meanwhile, also involves cooking the sugar and egg whites together, then beating them. That approach is more like a classic Italian meringue, and certainly the results in the pics look more meringue and less cookie.

Sugar, beaten egg whites etc md

So. As usual, I’m tweaking as I go along. The original recipe made a lot of mixture, but as you turn off the oven at the end of baking and let the cookies cool inside – as you do with meringues – you either need a massive oven, or should do half quantities. So I’ve halved the original recipe. I’ve also added some almond essence – simply because it’s more explicitly nutty than just using vanilla essence. Ideally I’d use hazelnut essence but I don’t have any.

250g hazelnuts (with skin)
1 egg white
125g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut or almond essence
5g plain flour
Zest of half a lemon

Heat the oven to 150C.

1. Put the nuts on a tray, then roast them for about 15 minutes.
2. Turn the oven up to 180C.
3. Take the nuts out of the oven and rub them with a tea towel. This removes some of the skin. Don’t agonise though. The inclusion of some skin adds a depth of flavour, IMHO. (I also prefer my peanut butter to be wholenut, skins and all.)
4. Put half the nuts in a mixer and give them a quick whizz. Just break them up. You don’t want to grind them.
5. Put the other half of the nuts on a chopping board and chop roughly. (The original recipe has you chopping them all by hand, but a) that’s labour intensive and b) I like the mixture of sizes and texture this method creates. Mades the results extra-brutti.)
6. Beat the egg whites to a soft peak.
7. Beat the sugar into the egg whites, to a firm peak, then add the essences.
8. Add the zest and flour to the nuts.
9. Gently fold the egg white mix into the nuts.
10. Put teaspoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving about 4cm between (though they don’t spread much).
11. Bake for about 12 minutes, until only just starting to colour.
12. Turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside to continue baking as it cools. Leave for about 10 minutes
13. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
14. Enjoy.

Baked and cooling

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