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.
100g dark choc (at least 70% cocoa solids)
115g unsalted butter, melted
70g light muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
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.
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.
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.
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.