There are times I wish I didn’t like cakes, cookies and other desserts — especially when I’m shopping for jeans or a bathing suit. There are times I wish I could say “no” and finish the meal with a piece of fruit — basta. But then there are times when a recipe like this comes along and I cave in to my predilection. I mean come on, look at that luscious concoction. Could you resist a cake like that — redolent of hazelnuts, and filled with creamy ricotta and poached pears? I didn’t think so.
The recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook called “Dolci – Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan . Francine explains that the recipe was originally created in the late 1990s by Salvatore De Riso, a tv cooking show host, pastry shop owner and cookbook author. It’s a dessert that’s frequently ordered in Naples and on the Amalfi coast, she says. (How did I miss this one on my trips there?)
I baked it recently for my Italian chit-chat group and it wasn’t as hard to make as it might seem. Although there are multiple steps in the preparation, the cake itself can be made ahead of time and frozen. The day before the group meeting, I whipped up the filling, assembled the cake and let it sit in the refrigerator to firm up. Francine says it keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for up to five days, and freezes well too. Now can you see why I had to give in?
2 (at least 6 ounces each) Bartlett or William pears, peeled, cored, and diced or thinly sliced
½ cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 to 2 tablespoons pear brandy
For the syrup:
1/3 cup sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons pear brandy
For the filling:
17 ounces ricotta cheese
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup heavy cream
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour two 9 ½ -inch springform pans.
Grind the hazelnuts and flour in a mini food processor until very fine.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs and sugar and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until the mixture has quadrupled in volume. Gently fold in the hazelnuts and flour with a spatula until just combined. Then add in the butter. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until firm to the touch. Set aside.
Make the pears: In a small saucepan combine the pears, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch and simmer over medium-low heat until the pears are soft. Remove from the heat, stir in the brandy, and let cool to room temperature. Set aside.
Make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and ½ cup water and bring to a boil. Stir in brandy.
Make the filling: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta, sugar, and vanilla for at least 5 minutes, until creamy.
Meanwhile, beat the cream until firm peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture. Fold in the cooled pear mixture. (I drained some of the liquid from the pears before folding it into the ricotta mixture since I was afraid it might make the ricotta too runny.)
Assemble the dessert: Remove one of the cake layers from the pan and place on a serving platter large enough to hold the outer ring of the springform pan. Brush the cake with one-half of the syrup to moisten it. Pile the filling in the center of the cake and put the springform ring back over the cake.
Gently spread the filling to the edges and then top with the second layer of cake. Brush the remaining syrup over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the freezer until set, about 2 hours. Remove the springform ring and refrigerate until ready to serve.