Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake

Being intolerant to something as prevalent as wheat means that you are a nightmare to a dinner party host.

(Just to clarify, I am not gluten-intolerant, but I have many friends who are).

It usually means that you are going to be the special one with the special meal. While everyone has home-made ravioli, you get the bowl of gluten-free spaghetti. While everyone enjoys big giant crusty garlicy buttered baguettes, you get a tiny turd bun wrapped in foil. And while everyone devours a decadent cake, you just sit and stare as you munch on your apple.

That special food is never as good, never as big, never as effortful... In fact, it's not very special at all!

That ends here, with this cake.

I love being a host - like Monica from Friends, I like to please people with food. So I make sure everyone is happy and I don't do special meals. It's all or nothing! So, I make it work.

This is a tall, decadent and sophisticated dessert that presents itself magnificently. It's good enough for anyone, whether you eat wheat or not.

Like many flourless cakes, this one contains a good amount of eggs. Egg protein provides structure in cakes and, without the functional protein provided by wheat (ie. gluten), extra eggs are required as reinforcements.

Ground nuts or nut meals work well in cakes as they absorb moisture quite readily to help with binding and they have a high oil content to keep things moist. The worst is a dry gluten-free cake - those are the ones that make people roll their eyes at the thought of "gluten-free".

This is what happens when a sponge cake meets fudgy brownie. Expect a moist and chocolatey, yet soft and almost delicate texture.

There is no chemical leavening in this recipe. Not dissimilar to most sponge cakes, here we rely solely on air beaten into the eggs to build the batter. To get as much air out of the eggs as possible, we beat the yolks separate from the whites and build air into each component separately. Beating the yolks and whites with sugar keeps them stable and again helps with air incorporation.

Do not disregard the quality of chocolate for this recipe. Stick with 70% cocoa solids - this is important! Remember that whatever is not cocoa solids is sugar. So if we use 150g of 70% chocolate, then 45g of that chocolate is sugar. That's nearly 1/4 cup of sugar. Keep that in mind...

As well, the dry matter of cocoa solids (which is much like cocoa powder) contributes structure to this bake. So cocoa content matters! Word. 

Dessert matters too, so don't forget to serve up something awesome at your next dinner shindig. Make it unforgettable and make it for everyone! 


Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake
Makes 8-10 servings

1 tbsp butter for bottom of pan
1 tbsp raw sugar 

2 ripe but firm pears (Bosc), cut into 8 wedges
150g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa)
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, cut intopieces 
¼ tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated
½ cup plus 2 tbsp (125g) sugar, divided
2 cups (200g) ground hazelnuts/hazelnut meal
½ tsp vanilla extract

Line the base of an 8-inch round non-stick springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sprinkle a tablespoon of raw sugarover it. Arrange the sliced pears in a circle (or something like it) around the base.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt chocolate with butter and salt in a small saucepan over very low heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar until very pale and thick and nearly tripled in volume. This will take 3-5 minutes on high speed. Fold in ground hazelnuts and vanilla extract. Stir through the cooled melted chocolate mixture and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites with remaining sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until very stiff and glossy. Gently fold it into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the batter evenly over pears in the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until puffed and slightly cracked at the surface. A skewer inserted into the center will come out with some moist crumbs. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
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