This torte is made in parts, each of which is simple and prepared ahead of time. You can adorn it with more or less of the cream mixture, as you wish. The textured cake, tender pears and unsweetened cream all contrast with each other, underlined by ginger and lemon. You can also substitute other nuts in place of the almonds such as walnuts or hazelnuts. Seckel pears, spicy and small, are perfect for this dessert. If you can’t find them, use larger pears, cutting them in half lengthwise and removing the stems and cores. Lay them around the top of the tart, stem ends in.
Makes 8 servings.
For the torte base:
2 8-inch round cake pans
Butter or vegetable oil for pans
1 cup toasted almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts, skin on (unsalted)
¾ cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
⅛ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the rack in the middle.
Cut out parchment paper circles to line the bottoms of two 8-inch round pans. Butter the bottoms and sides of the pans. Fit the parchment paper inside each pan and butter the top of the paper. Set aside. Put the almonds and sugar together in a food processor and chop the nuts coarsely (the sugar will keep the nuts from turning oily). Add the eggs and almond extract, and run the food processor for about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula, to combine them well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger; add them to the batter and run just enough for them to be incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Carefully put them into the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. The batter will puff up and then settle, turning light brown. When cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, it is ready (check at 18 minutes). Set the pans on cake racks to cool and immediately run a small knife around the inside of each pan. When the cakes are cool, turn them out and peel off the parchment paper; invert again so that the bottom flatter side is up.When thoroughly cool, wrap each cake in plastic and chill. You can do this a day or two or three ahead.
For the poached pears:
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 large lemon, zest pared off in strips and juice squeezed
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thinly
9 or 10 Seckel pears, cored and peeled but stems left on
Combine the water and sugar in a wide saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and boil gently for 5 minutes without stirring.When the sugar is dissolved, carefully put the pears in the pot with the lemon juice, zest and ginger. Poach the pears until they are just tender, about 5 minutes:
Don’t let them get mushy and fall apart. Remove the pears to a container.
Boil the syrup to reduce and intensify it, then strain out the ginger and lemon zest. Cool the syrup and pour it over the pears; cover and chill. You can do this much a day or two ahead.
To finish the torte:
Approximately 1 cup heavy cream
Approximately 1 cup crème fraîche
Take the poached pears out and stand them on a very large plate, choosing the best eight. Cut a sliver off the bottom of any that doesn’t stand straight, saving the trimmings. Cut an extra pear into thin slices, removing bits of stem, and combine all the trimmings.
Whip the cream in a chilled bowl into stiff peaks. Fold in the crème fraîche. (If you decide to use a smaller amount, use equal quantities.)
Lay one of the torte rounds on a serving plate. Drizzle some of the pear syrup over the cake surface. With a small spatula, spread a thin layer of the cream mixture over the surface, like mortar. Top with an even layer of pear trimmings. Carefully set the second cake on top and drizzle more of the syrup over the surface. Spread the remaining cream mixture evenly around the torte’s sides and over the top too if you wish.
Chill until shortly before serving time.
To serve, stand the eight reserved pears around the periphery of the cake, one for each slice, or on top of the cake—as you wish.
Recipe by Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely