If it’s a contest between apples and pears, I would have a hard time deciding which one I would choose.
I really love them both. I could go through all the reasons why, but suffice it to say, they are almost interchangeable in so many recipes. Pears make as good a butter as apples. Both are fabulous in pies, salads, crisps, in roasts, and even baked. Both work perfectly with caramel. And chocolate. Even as a little girl, I probably gravitated to pears more- maybe it was their shape or their lovely shade of green. (as a child I had yet to be introduced to Bosc or Forelles!) If someone’s mum offered me pear nectar or apple juice, I always went for the pear nectar. And then through the years, I always seemed to get the feeling that the pear was the underdog in the unspoken autumn fruit competition. Maybe that’s why I always leaned team pear. Root for the underdog!
When I found this recipe in Yossy Arefi’s book, ‘Sweeter Off the Vine’, I knew I it was just a matter of time before I made it. Not only did it have my favourite fruit, it has my favourite nut. The chestnut!! You can read me blather about my love affair with chestnuts on my Chestnut Cream Cake blog post. There are also toasted walnuts in the batter. Can you just imagine how good this is going to taste? And when I read her suggestion to add chopped chocolate to the batter, the deal was set in stone. There is something so very earthy and delectable that happens when you add bittersweet cocoa to pears and chestnuts. It adds such a depth and richness.
Instead of chocolate chips though, I decided to go with cocoa nibs. Have you picked up a bag of cocoa nibs yet? What are you waiting for? I use them in sooooo many recipes. From granola to cookies, to streusel toppings, and even in some meat braises. Yes, meat braises. Cocoa nibs contain no sugar. Just the raw cocoa flavour. So it has a faint bitterness to it. But when it is blended with other seasonings and stock, that bitterness is slightly softened and adds a wonderful layer to the final dishes. Just think molé sauce. Mexican molé sauce contains raw cocoa powder (unsweetened) but all you remember is the rich, full, decadent sauce with that hint of cocoa but you don’t know why! Well, now you do. When I add it to sweet baked goods, the sugar in the recipe makes up for the lack of sugar in the nibs, but that hint of cocoa is still there. And bonus: you get the added crunch of biting into the nibs! So they are there for texture as much as they are for flavour.
Instead of using purchased chestnut purée, this recipe has us creating our own rough version using roasted chestnuts. You can purchase these in jars, cans, or even sealed bags. They are simply roasted peeled chestnuts. I am that person that will just snack on these, plain out of the container. In this case the chestnuts are added to the bowl of your mixer and combined with sugar. Think of it as a very rough marzipan that is forming as the roasted chestnuts are combined in your blender with sugar and butter. It gets fluffy in no time, and then eggs are added. This batter is truly creamy and light. At the end you will fold in the toasted walnuts, chopped pears and cocoa nibs. It is a rather thick batter, but it bakes up quite light.
Now, how to top this lovely earthy, autumn cake? I really wanted to continue the chocolate theme. So for my first attempt at the recipe, I used a simple chocolate ganache as a drizzle all over. I used a Lindt 78% bar chopped, and some cream heated to create the ganache. And then for an easy drizzle, I poured the cooled ganache into a small sealable sandwich bag. I cut the tip off of one corner and squeezed gently to get the ganache out in a thin drizzle. Just go to town- let your inner artist out! When I brought this in to where I volunteer, so many commented on the flavour contrast of the ganache to the cake. One friend kept coming back for more pieces:”This is the best thing you’ve ever brought in!” I’m so glad it got rave reviews.
But what about if you want to have the cake, and not go through the hassle of making the ganache and then drizzling it all over the cake? Well, I’m giving you an alternate topper. Yossy suggests just a simple dusting of icing sugar. Sure. That’s the easy way. And it is a classic for a reason. But I decided that if I was going to do this, I still wanted that hint of cocoa. So I just combined 2 teaspoons each of black cocoa powder and icing sugar. And then used a strainer to dust the cake top. It created such a dramatic top- I was so surprised at the outcome! But it did exactly what I wanted it to do. It had the required sweetness from the sugar, but the dark dramatic look of the chocolate, as well as the flavour profile I wanted.
Bottom line, you have three options for this cake: simple icing sugar, icing sugar blended with cocoa powder, and a chocolate ganache drizzle. I promise you, you’ll be making this cake often, so try out all three, and let me know which one you like best!
This cake is perfect for breakfast, for snacking, for coffee break, or with tea and friends in the afternoon. It isn’t heavy at all. The pears really shine, but the cocoa is definitely a supporting star. And with the chestnuts and walnuts, it really is a pretty healthy treat.
Chestnut Cake with Pear and Cocoa Nibs
A tender light batter is created using roasted chestnuts. Toasted walnuts, pear chunks and cocoa nibs are added to the batter. After cooling, why not top it with a combination of black cocoa powder and icing sugar for a dramatic look!
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) chopped walnuts
- 3 medium sized pears about 1 pound or 450 grams. Bosc or D'Anjou work well here. They should be ripe but firm.
- 1 1/4 cups (155 grams) AP flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 (5 oz/150 grams) package of shelled roasted chestnuts
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) butter, softened
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup (60 grams) cocoa nibs
- 2 tsp black cocoa powder
- 2 tsp icing sugar
- 4 oz (120 grams) dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) heavy cream
Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 350F (180C)
Butter and flour (or use veggie spray) a 9 inch springform pan.
Arrange the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until light brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool while you prepare the rest of the cake.
Peel, core and chop the pears into 1/2 inch pieces.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl, combine the chestnuts and sugar. Mix on low speed until the chestnuts have broken up into a coarse meal.
Add the butter, turn the mixer up to medium high and cream the mixture till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds and scraping down the bowl in between each addition. Add the vanilla extract.'
Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture until just combined.
Then fold in the pears, walnuts and cocoa nibs. The batter will be thick. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it out evenly, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.
Tap the pan gently on the counter to help the batter settle into the pan.
Bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and the edges are golden brown, between 50-60 minutes. Check at 50 for sure, since each oven is different (Yossy says it should take between 40-50 minutes. It has always been underdone at 40 minutes for me though)
Let the cake cool in the pan placed on a cooling rack. Let cool 45-60 minutes before removing the sides of the pan. Once cooled completely, you can take care of the top.
Cocoa and Sugar Dusting Top
Combine the black cocoa powder and icing sugar in a small bowl till completely blended. Using a small strainer, dust the entire top of the cake with this mixture.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place into a small bowl.
Heat the cream over medium heat till warmed through and simmering.
Pour the cream over the chocolate and cover the bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Stir the mixture through until completely blended.
Once cooled but still pourable, transfer the ganache to a small sandwich bag. Seal the bag. Using scissors, trim away a small section from one of the bottom corners.
Hold the bag in your hand, with the corner down, and squeeze gently until the ganache starts to drizzle out. Using a freehand motion, drizzle the ganache all over the surface of the cake (have the cake sitting on the cooling rack set over a wax paper lined baking sheet) Once you are happy with the design, you are done! Let it cool and set up before slicing.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for a good two days.