Autumn Sunday mornings in Melbourne often begin a bit like the opening credits of Douglas Sirk’s 1955 film, All That Heaven Allows, I think. All red and yellow leaves and a gentle wind that stirs them like a warning for what lies ahead. Soft light makes everything glow like Technicolour and the whole scene is so lovely, that if you look for too long your chest begins to feel heavy with the weight of doomed romance or winter’s coming. What you need then, is something to eat that celebrates Autumn. Something wholesome and golden that reminds you how good the present moment can be.
Something with pears, perhaps? This little cure for Autumn melancholy is made from a recipe in this month’s delicious. magazine that I bookmarked right away. And it is everything I wanted it to be on that sort of a Sunday afternoon; it is a toothsome and nutty tart with hits of fragrant roasted pear scattered about on top. Something magic happens to it in the oven and the batter separates into a spongy, cake-like layer on the bottom and a chewy frangipane-like top layer. It comes out looking as if you’ve done something fancy – or time consuming, at the very least. It is shallow and not too sweet and would be delicious with a dollop of mascarpone, although I loved it warm on it’s own with coffee. A piece of this and a bit of Nina Simone on the stereo will sweeten your Autumn Sunday afternoon.
Pear and hazelnut torta
Note: to toast and remove skins from hazelnuts, place on an oven tray and roast for around 10 minutes or until they smell good and toasty. Be careful though – they burn real quick! While hot, put into a clean tea towel and rub vigorously until skins have been removed.
100g toasted hazelnuts with skins removed
½ cup (110g) caster sugar, plus 2 tsp extra to top
1/3 cup (50g) plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
¼ cup (60ml) milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
80g unsalted butter, melted & cooled
20g extra butter, chilled and chopped
2 ripe but firm pears
icing sugar, to dust
Preheat oven to 170°C (or 190° in my slow old thing). Grease a 26sm round tart pan or quiche dish.
Place hazelnuts, caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour in food processor and whiz until the nuts are ground. Stop before they become too fine and form a paste. Tip this mixture into a large bowl. Sift in remaining flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk until thoroughly combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until slightly frothy, then add milk, vanilla and cooled butter, whisking to combine. Pour this into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until well combined. The mixture might be runnier than what you’d expect of a regular cake batter. Scrape this into your prepared pan.
Peel, quarter and core pears then cut each quarter into 3 or 4 thin slices. If you’re neat and fussy, fan these by pressing gently on the quarter and transfer with a palette knife to the top of the batter. If you’re like me (lazy), do the best you can using only your fingers until it looks a bit like the picture. Repeat for both pears. Sprinkle top of the torta with extra caster sugar, concentrating on the pear fans and finally, dot fruit with chilled chopped butter.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until tart is golden and has puffed slightly (mine took 5 minutes longer even). Transfer to a wire rack and sift over a good layer of icing sugar. Allow to cool to warm then add another finer layer of icing sugar. Serve warm with cream or marscapone or at room temperature with coffee.