Pear, Ricotta & Hazelnut Cake
This is a classic Southern Italian cake which originated in the late 1990’s in Minori, created by the renowned pastry chef Sal de Riso for his eponymous pastry shop. It has subsequently made its way around various parts of Italy and acquired a well-deserved hallowed status in the dolci hall of fame. Little surprise as it is a beauty to look at and to eat, and is impossibly chic without requiring too much effort. As with the Sbriciolata recipe, there is something about a thick layer of white and creamy filling sandwiched between two camel-brown crusts that is instantly celebratory and appealing.
The hazelnut ‘cake’ is light and nutty, gently soaked in the pear poaching liquor, and the creamy ricotta filling complements it perfectly. A wonderfully light and elegant thing, perfect to take as a pudding as it can be made the night before and benefits from a night sitting in the fridge to firm up.
Serves 8-10, makes 1 x 23cm cake
For the Cake
170g hazelnuts, toasted
100g butter, melted
70g 00 flour
A pinch of salt
For the Pears
300g pears (around 4/5 small pears)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Half a vanilla pod or a few drops of extract
For the Ricotta Filling
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 170, and toast the hazelnuts for 10 minutes or so, until light brown. Remove and set aside to cool. Turn the oven up to 180.
Now make the cake. You will make one cake, which will be cut in half to form two layers. Grease and line your springform cake tin.
Beat the eggs with the sugar until pale, fluffy and mousse-like. This will take at least a good few minutes, and they should triple in volume.
Melt the butter (in a small saucepan or in the microwave) and set aside to cool slightly.
Grind the hazelnuts to a fine sand and fold them through the egg mixture, along with the salt and flour. Fold in the melted butter and pour the batter into the prepared tin.
Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until risen, set and golden.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, remove from the tin and slice carefully in two, horizontally through the centre (I use a piece of thread to do this – holding a long piece of thread and pulling it through the cake to slice it cleanly in half).
For the Filling:
Beat the ricotta and sugar until completely smooth (this will take a good few minutes, especially if you have good ricotta which is denser).
In a separate bowl whip the cream to firm peaks. Fold the cream through the ricotta.
For the Pears:
Peel and core the pears. Slice them into inch-sized pieces and place them in a small saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest and water. Bring to a gentle simmer and poach the pieces very gently for ten minutes or so, until they are tender and translucent. Remove them from the heat.
Add the lemon juice and stir. Now strain them through a sieve, catching all the syrup in a bowl to use later. Remove the zest and vanilla and discard.
Paint the exposed sponge layers with the syrup and a pastry brush. Place the bottom half on cake on the base of your springform cake tin with the ring around it, to help you build your cake and keep the sides contained.
Stir the strained (now cool) pear pieces through the ricotta mixture, then spread over the ricotta filling on one half of the sponge. Place the other sponge half on top (fitting it into the cake tin) and press down.
Place the cake in the fridge and leave to set for at least a few hours, ideally overnight.
Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
Note: this is one of those occasions where you will really need to buy good quality ricotta. The supermarket stuff tends to be too wet and grainy. See notes on ricotta.