Adventures in Baking – Torta alla Gianduia with Pears
Keep reading, I’m hosting a giveaway at the end of this blog post…
Following on from my astonishing third place triumph in the Queen Anne Farmers' Market Pie Competition almost exactly a year ago, I thought it was about time I entered another baking competition, this time Edible Seattle’s Cake v Pie Competition. Since I am an equal opportunity baker and like baking and eating both pies and cakes, I decided this time that I would play on Team Cake.
My cake and its competition (Photo by Myra Kohn)
The only catch was the theme - ‘Trouble in Pearadise’ or pies and cakes featuring pears. Making a pear pie or tart is easy peasy lemon squeezy but there aren’t so many pear-y cakes out there. I started to think about what flavours go with pears – chocolate, of course, and all kinds of nuts, and hit upon the idea of incorporating pears into a torta alla gianduia, the traditional chocolate and hazelnut cake of Piemonte, my mother’s home region in Italy.
Gianduia has a long and illustrious history in Piemonte, where expensive chocolate was stretched with the addition of hazelnut paste, from the hazelnut trees which grown in abundance in the region. It’s one of the most famous flavours in the world today, as Nutella, from Ferrero, a great Piemontese company, is just a commercial form of gianduia paste.
The climates of Piemonte and the Pacific North West are not dissimilar and I was delighted to discover that hazelnuts grow well in the PNW too, most famously in Oregon. So this cake would be both delightfully seasonal and local.
This cake is a little complicated, but you’ll end up with a dense, fudgey, chocolatey, delight, which perfectly complements the sweetness and delicacy of juicy pears. But don’t just take my word for it.
Step 1 – Poaching the Pears
I found David Liebovitz’s guidelines on poaching pears here to be super useful.
4-5 firm ripe pears (I used some lovely Bartlett pears from my organic box)
1 litre/1 quart water
1 1/3 cups (250g) sugar
1 miniature bottle Frangelico (Italian hazelnut liqueur or another liqueur to taste)
Peel, core and quarter the pears. Heat the water and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and cover them with a circle of parchment or greaseproof paper with a small hole cut in the middle. This ensures that the pears don’t float up from the liquid and turn brown. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes making sure the pears don’t turn mushy. Remove the pears and boil the peary liquid down fiercely until you have a thick syrup. Turn off the heat, pour in the bottle of Frangelico, add back the pears and set aside to cool.
Step 2 – Making the Cake
This recipe is based on this one here by Annamaria Volpi, with a few tweaks.
1½ cups (180 gr) ground hazelnuts (you could substitute other nuts such as almonds or pistachios)
7 oz (200 gr) semi or bittersweet chocolate, finely diced (I used Guittard 72% cacao)
4 + 4 oz (115 + 115 gr) sugar
7 oz (200 gr) butter, at room temperature
8 eggs, separated
¾ cup (110 gr) plain or cake flour
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Oil a 9 inch (23cm) Springform cake tin and line it with parchment paper. Sprinkle the paper with cocoa powder. I wanted to make a three-layer cake. You could bake yours in a 10 inch (25cm) pan and just cut it in half for two layers instead.
Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or glass bowl set on a saucepan of simmering water.
Cream the ground hazelnuts, 4oz (115g) of sugar and the butter together until soft and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and mix together until smooth. Combine the egg yolks one at a time with the hazelnut-chocolate mixture, reserving the egg whites. Sift the flour and stir it in thoroughly.
Beat the egg whites. When they are half beaten add the remaining 4 oz (115 gr) of sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
Fold the egg whites carefully into the hazelnut-chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into the cake tin, level with a spatula and bake it for approximately 30–40 minutes (for a 10 inch cake) or 50 minutes for a 9 inch cake. The cake is ready when a stick of spaghetti poked into the centre comes out clean and dry.
Remove from the oven and let the cake cool at room temperature. Then remove from the cake pan. When it is fully cooled, slice into two or three layers.
Step 3 – Making the Chocolate Ganache Filling and Topping and Assembling the Cake
1 cup (250 cc) double (heavy) cream
12 oz (340 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, diced
2 oz (60 gr) butter, at room temperature
Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just starting to bubble. Add the diced chocolate and beat together until the chocolate has fully melted into the hot cream. Beat in the butter. Leave to cool at room temperature for 2 hours. I hurried mine along in the fridge which is fine, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold and stiff.
Take your cake layers and spoon a few tablespoons of the peary poaching syrup over the cakes. Wait for it to soak in. Spread the bottom two layers with chocolate ganache and then top with sliced poached pears. Assemble the cake and spread the remaining ganache all over the top and sides. Put the cake in the fridge so that the ganache sets firmly.
Step 4 – Glazing and Decorating the Cake
You only need to do this step if you’re feeling fancy, though I’m glad I did. The first ganache layer (step 3) will produce a perfectly delicious cake. This is what you need to do if you want to create a smooth, shiny finish, say for example if you’re entering a cake competition.
¾ cup (180 cc) double (heavy) cream
6 oz (180 gr ) dark, bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, diced
Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just starting to bubble. Add the diced chocolate and beat together until the chocolate has fully melted into the hot cream and the ganache is very light and soft. Immediately spread the glaze over the refrigerated cake with an offset spatula.
In Italy it is traditional for some reason to write the word ‘Gianduia’ on the cake in script. So I melted a little white chocolate and piped it on.
Here is my cake basking in the sunshine.
Here’s a glimpse of its fudgey insides.
And here I am after my cake won second prize! Told you it was a good recipe.
Photo courtesy of Myra Kohn
My prize was a year’s subscription to Edible Seattle – a monthly magazine focusing on the fabulous food bounty of Seattle and its surrounding area, and the farmers and chefs who bring it to us. The only problem is that I’m already a subscriber. So I have a subscription here to give away. It would obviously be most relevant to a blog reader from the Seattle area, but it’s so full of great recipes and fascinating articles that I’d encourage anyone interested in food to enter.
If you’d like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below telling us what is your favourite autumn ingredient. I’ll draw the winner at random on Friday 11th November. Good luck!