Hazelnut-Brown Butter Cakes with Bosc Pears

Hazelnuts, especially when toasted, have a flavor that resembles the brown butter used in this cake to enrich the batter. The firm, spicy Bosc pears, in season in the cold weather months, add juiciness and full-bodied fruit flavor to these small cakes, while chewy diced dried pears accentuate their pear flavor. Because these cakes use only the egg white, the recipe is a good place to use up some of those egg whites you may have in the freezer. Serve the small cakes while still warm, perhaps with hazelnut syrup-flavored espresso or small glasses of Italian Frangelico hazelnut liqueur mixed with brandy or rum to cut down on its sweetness.

Yield: 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 1/4 pound (3/4 cup) hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 ounces (1/2 cup minus 1/2 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon (1 tablespoon)
  • 6 large egg whites (3/4 cup), at room temperature
  • 1 cup Brown Butter
  • 1/4 cup diced dried pears, soaked in warm water to cover for 30 minutes
  • 2 Bosc pears, stemmed, cored, and sliced crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray 8 (3/4-cup to 1-cup) ramekins or muffin cups with nonstick baker’s coating, or rub with butter and sprinkle with flour, shaking out the excess.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the hazelnuts, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the flour, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest, and grind until finely powdered. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
  3. In the clean and greaseless bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until fluffy, then add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until the whites are firm and glossy, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a wide shallow bowl so it’s easier to fold in the nuts without deflating the meringue.
  4. Fold the meringue into the nut mixture in thirds so as not to deflate the batter. Gradually fold in the brown butter, stirring until well blended, then fold in the dried pears. Arrange a layer of pear slices on the bottom of each ramekin, then spoon the batter equally among the ramekins over top. Overlap more pear slices on the tops in a circular pattern. Brush the pears with the butter and sprinkle with sugar.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes or until the cakes start to come away from the sides of the ramekins and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. To remove the cakes from the ramekins, run a thin-bladed knife between each cake and ramekin to loosen; invert to unmold, then set upright. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar just before serving warm or at room temperature.

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