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Posts Tagged ‘peaches’

The favorite everyday desserts in our house are cakes with baked-in toppings or additions of fruit. The batter is usually quick and easy to put together – not even any separating of egg yolks and whites. The gentle contrasts of moisture, texture, and flavor are comforting and pleasing without being overly rich or sweet. I’ve written about several desserts of this kind in previous posts, such as these:
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Clockwise from top left: plum cake Cockayne, from Joy of Cooking; peach cake from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen; blueberry grunt, with a sweet biscuit dough; cherry clafoutis, with a sweet pancake dough; 1917 cake, with raisins and applesauce; polenta cake with raspberries and blueberries

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Now I have another one to add to my repertoire: Torta di Bernardone, an apple and pear cake from The Tuscan Cookbook by Wilma Pezzini. This is the third of three excellent recipes from that book that I’ve made recently. (You can find my posts on the first two here and here.)

The recipe is credited to a trattoria run by three sisters in a country town near Pezzini’s home in 1977. Today, according to Google, there’s still a restaurant and inn called Bernardone in that town. I’d love to visit it one day, when transatlantic travel is possible again!

But back to the cake. The recipe expects you to be making the batter by hand, with a wooden spoon. I chose the lazy route – my heavy-duty mixer. It quickly beat together ¾ cup of sugar and a jumbo egg, then incorporated a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, a heavy ¼ cup of kirsch, and just a drop of vanilla extract.
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The batter waited while I peeled, cored, quartered, and cut into fairly thick slices an apple and a pear.
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With the batter spread into a buttered 9-inch cake pan, I arranged apple and pear slices alternately in a pinwheel pattern over the surface – entirely covering it with fruit, as the recipe instructed.
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The cake baked in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes, until the batter had risen around the fruit and the center of the cake tested done. It surprised me a bit to see that, while the apple slices stayed pale, the pear slices had browned. In retrospect, I think it was because the pear was very ripe. They made a nice color contrast, though, giving the recipe a bit more visual appeal than I had expected.
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Really, this little cake is a classic of its kind: a simple, old-fashioned, light, homey dessert. Like similar fruity cakes, it’s good warm or cold, and also lovely for breakfast for the next few days – if it lasts that long!
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According to Pezzini, the apples and pears make this the Bernardone sisters’ winter version of the cake. In summer they do it with peaches or cherries. I look forward to trying it with those fruits too, when they come into season.

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Hazelnut Financiers

Hazelnuts are a great favorite in my household. Whenever Tom’s Italian wine trips take him to Alba, he brings back shrink-wrapped bags of the prized local variety, already peeled and roasted.

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I can happily eat them just in the hand, but mostly I use them in dessert recipes. One that I like very much is a recipe that I clipped from the New York Times two summers ago, for Fig-Hazelnut Financiers. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve taken strong exception to some NYT recipes (here and here) but I can honestly praise this one.

The classic financier is an almond-flavored French cake, baked in small rectangular molds to look like bars of gold. Common variants come in different shapes and are often topped with fruit. For me, the switch from almonds to hazelnuts – also not uncommon – is the master stroke that transforms a good recipe into a great one.

The recipe’s first step is to melt a stick of butter and cook it into beurre noisette. (I do have one nit to pick with the Times. It says cook the butter “until it turns nut brown.” That’s misleading: It’s not the liquid butter that should do that; it’s the solids that fall to the bottom of the pan, which you leave behind. The butter itself should get only to a dark golden color.)

While the butter was cooling a little, I stirred together ground hazelnuts, all-purpose flour, and confectioners’ sugar – a lot of sugar! – and then beat in four egg whites. Some recipes say to whip the whites into peaks first, but it isn’t necessary here. Finally, I beat in the melted butter and vanilla extract.

I divided the batter over the cups of a buttered muffin pan, put a slice of ripe fig on top of each cup, and baked them for 15 minutes. After a short rest, they obligingly came out of the pan intact, looking like small flat-top muffins.

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These are truly luscious little morsels. The fig/hazelnut combination tastes just wonderful – sweet but not cloying, rich without being heavy. In short, a fine dessert. They even freeze well – useful to prevent us from gobbling down the whole batch on the day they’re made!

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A few days later, thinking about a dessert for a small dinner party, I had the idea of making a single large financier cake. I put together another batch of batter, poured it into an eight-inch springform pan, and added a circular pattern of fresh peach slices. With all that moist fruit, the cake took much longer to bake: 30 minutes at 400° and then 5-10 minutes more at 350. But it came out just fine.

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It was an excellent simple dessert, different from the fig tarts in being slightly less intense, with the hazelnut crumb coming more to the fore, but delightful all the same. And I still have more of those good hazelnuts for future financier pleasures, as the fruits of the season change. I bet they’ll be good with pears.

 

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