Baking seems to be popular when in lockdown, or at least the idea of baking must be, because flour, yeast, and other baking supplies are sold out everywhere. But pears were on sale and I had walnuts that needed to be used up, so I decided to bake a walnut and pear cake. Luckily I always have flour in my pantry.
In Italy a cake like this is often served for breakfast, which is not a bad idea at all. But it is also great with coffee or tea, or as a dessert. I used less sugar though than is usual in Italy; increase it to 125 grams if you have a sweet tooth. Italians use lievito per dolci for this, which is baking powder enriched with vanilla. You can use baking powder and vanilla as a substitute.
Because of the pears this cake is nice and moist inside. As always when using nuts, their flavor is brought out by toasting them before use.
For 8 servings
4 pears, about 750 grams gross weight (1.67 lbs)
100 grams (2/3 cup) shelled walnuts + 8 more nice looking walnut halves for garnish
150 grams (1 cup) pastry flour + more for dusting the pan
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
125 grams (1 stick) butter + more for buttering the pan
1 tsp ground cinnamon
16 grams (1 Tbsp) baking powder plus 1/2 tsp vanilla (or 1 sachet lievito per dolci)
icing sugar for garnish, optional
Toast 100 grams of walnuts in the oven for 10 minutes at 170C/340F. (Do not toast the walnuts to be used for garnish.)
Melt 125 grams butter over low heat and allow to cool somewhat.
Combine 100 grams sugar with 2 eggs in a large bowl.
Whisk until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the melted butter (making sure that the butter has cooled off to 50C/120F or less to prevent prematurely cooking the eggs), and stir to incorporate.
Add 150 grams flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 Tbsp baking powder, all sifted. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla if not using lievito per dolci.
Stir with a wooden spoon…
…until smooth. Do not stir more than necessary, as we are not trying to develop the gluten (on the contrary).
Break up the toasted walnuts and season them lightly with salt.
Peel, core and dice 2 of the pears. Add the diced pears and crumbled walnuts to the batter.
Stir to mix.
Butter a 24 cm (9.5″) springform pan, and dust it with flour.
Place the batter in the prepared pan, and level the top with a spatula.
Season the 8 walnut halves lightly with salt. Peel, core and slice the remaining 2 pears.
Decorate the top of the cake with the sliced pears and walnuts.
Bake for 45-60 minutes at 170C/340F, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean or with crumbs attached.
Allow to cool before removing the springform.
Decorate with icing sugar if you like.
This is great with a passito, a sweet Italian dessert wine made from dried grapes.
Being in lockdown also means cooking from your pantry, and pasta e ceci is a tasty and nutritious dish. It is typical Italian comfort food. Ceci are chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. As with all Italian home cooking, many variations exist. Some are with tomatoes, some without (in bianco). Some are more like a soup, with the addition of chicken or vegetable broth and perhaps part of the chickpeas pureed for thickness. Some are vegetarian, some add pancetta. My version has pancetta and a bit of tomato.