After we moved to Switzerland, I decided to compensate for the absence of my extended family around me at Christmas time, by throwing myself into cooking and baking all through the season. Swept up by the excitement of baking all and sundry, I made a rich brandy-soaked fruit cake both years. This, despite not being a fan of Christmas traditional fruit cake. The cake was meant solely for my husband and friends. To appease myself, I usually bake more than just the fruit cake, usually something with a rich dulce de leche filling, and thus, Christmas time witnesses a flurry of cakes and cookies in our house.
This year, again, the baking fever caught up. After wading through a zillion recipes on traditional (Indian) plum cake, fruit cake, mince-pies and gingerbread cookies, that were all over my social media feeds, I decided to ditch the traditional Christmas fruit cake, and quite happily so. Instead, I was determined to make a cake that is more my style.
Serendipitously, while browsing for something unrelated, I came across this recipe for a pear and walnut cake. I am a sucker for pear desserts, such as this one. So I threw in chocolate to join the merry bunch. And the result is a cake that has some of my favorite flavors from the colder months - pears, walnuts, caramel and spices. And chocolate!
What I like about this cake is that it isn't excessively sweet or rich. It has fruit and nuts (always a good thing!) and a little dark chocolate ganache that gives it just a hint of decadence. Aside from that, it is as healthy as a muesli bar! Or so I tell myself when I sneak slices of cake from the fridge.
If you feel like some indulgence before Christmas, but don't want to feel guilty about it, then this cake is for you. It keeps well when refrigerated and tastes great especially when eaten at midnight, when you can't fall asleep because you simply must stay up to finish Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (true story!).
En Guete Mitenand!
Walnut Pear Cake
- 1.5 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 5 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large very ripe pear mashed
- 1 large very ripe pear cut into small cubes
- For the Caramelized Pears
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 pear thinly sliced
- For the Caramel Walnut Topping:
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- For the Chocolate ganache
- 300 gms milk chocolate chopped (40-44% cocoa content)
- ¼ cup good quality cocoa powder
- 160 ml heavy cream 35% fat content
- Prepare 2 6" cake pans by rubbing the insides with butter and dusting them with flour. Dust off any excess flour.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F)
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, eggs, butter, mashed pear, milk, and vanilla extract. Using a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer, beat until combined.
- Stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture, adding the dry ingredients gradually, and continue to beat till just combined
- Add the diced pear and mix them gently into the batter
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- To make the Caramelized Pear:
- In a saucepan, add the butter and let it melt on low heat
- Once the butter foams, add the sugar and let it cook until it starts to bubble
- Add the sliced pears and mix it gently, taking care to not break the pear slices
- The pears will release juices and caramelize
- Turn off the heat once the pears are soft and cooked through
- To make the Caramel Walnut Topping:
- Combine the brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Add the walnuts and boil for another 3-4 minutes
- Keep aside to cool
- To make the Chocolate Ganache
- In a high-sided pan, heat the cream untill it comes to a boil
- As soon as it starts boiling, turn off the heat and add the chopped chocolate and cocoa
- Stir this with a whisk for a minute or so, until the ganache is of a smooth consistency and all the chocolate has melted
- Let the ganache cool. The more it cools, the harder the ganache sets
- The ganache needs to be of a pipe-able consistency, so you could let it set for a few minutes in the fridge, if you live in a warm area
- To Assemble the cake:
- Using a serrated knife, cut the tops of the cake layers to flatten them
- Spread a layer or caramelized walnuts on one layer and sandwich it with the other layer of cake
- Now, using an off-set spatula, transfer the ganache to the cake. I used a turntable and a bench-scraper to smooth the edges of the cake
- Top the cake with the caramelized pears and walnuts
- Refrigerate the cake after a day, and eat within 5-6 days