One of the recipes I mentioned as my favorite of 2015 was the Pear-Walnut Upside-Down Cake from the Cook's Illustrated January/February 2016 issue (job perk: I got to try it several times during development and had access to the recipe way before it was on the newsstand). I love pears and the caramelized upside-down element of this particular cake is really gorgeous. Recently, I saw a recipe up on the superstylish lifestyle blog A Cup of Jo for a Pear and Nutella tart that sounded amazing but I'm not a huge fan of puff pastry, so I thought I'd take some of the flavor inspiration from that tart and use them to make a new variation on the upside-down cake recipe. Instead of using walnuts in the cake, I used toasted hazelnuts, and I added dark chocolate to the upside-down topping and a swirl of chocolate-hazelnut spread ("Nutella," although what I had on hand was Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter and as neither of those #brands sponsors this blog, I make no definitive recommendation). The result was a really lovely cake. It's texturally interesting because of the chopped hazelnuts and caramel layer, and it's also extremely flavorful, between the nutty cake, bittersweet chocolate, and syrupy pears. There's also a dark, cozy quality to the overall confection that makes it a good choice for a cold, wintery weekend. Enjoy!
Chocolate-Hazelnut Pear Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from Pear-Walnut Upside-Down Cake in Cook's Illustrated)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 ripe but firm pears (I used Bartlett)
½ cup dark/bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted*
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
1. Topping: Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Pour the melted butter over the bottom of the pan and swirl it to evenly coat. Combine the brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt in small bowl and then sprinkle it evenly over the melted butter.
2. Halve and core the pears. You will only need five halves, so eat one. Cut the remaining five pear halves into four wedges each (20 pieces). Arrange 18 of these pieces in a circular pattern around the cake pan with the tapered ends pointing inward. Trim the tapered ends from the remaining two pieces (eat these, too) and arrange the fatter ends in the center. Sprinkle chocolate over pears and caramel (that's a nice sentence, right?).
3. Cake: Pulse the hazelnuts, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a food processor until the hazelnuts are roughly ground, 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
4. Process the eggs, white sugar, and vanilla in the now-empty processor until they are very pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Add the melted butter and process until it's incorporated. Add the egg mixture to the nut mixture in the bowl and mix to combine them. Pour the batter evenly over the pears (it's okay if some pear shows through; the cake will bake up over the fruit).
5. Microwave the chocolate-hazelnut spread until it's pourable, about 30 seconds. Drizzle it over the cake batter and swirl with a butter knife to incorporate it.
5. Bake until the center of the cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Carefully run a paring knife or offset spatula around the sides of pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet; discard the parchment paper. Let the cake cool for about 2 hours. Transfer to a serving platter, cut into wedges, and serve.
*To toast the hazelnuts, simply put them in a pan over a medium-hot flame for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until they start to smell really, really good. I did not skin the hazelnuts—since they're going to get chopped into tiny pieces anyway, it didn't seem worth it.