The first time I made this chocolate, pear and hazelnut cake (in its original, non-mini cakes form) a couple of years ago, I was a bit skeptical. I had never been a fan of soggy fruit in desserts. In my mind, they tampered with the textural bliss that xxx (insert dessert name here) already had. For instance, why would you want to ruin the spongy deliciousness of a slice of cake by throwing in a bunch of slimy raisins? Mind you, I don’t oppose textural contrast on every front (pudding-wise). A case in point: the eggy creaminess of a clafoutis, dotted with berries. Or another: boozy plums and creamy custard baked in a pastry shell. Done properly, the art of combining the flavours and textures of these ingredients together is, probably, one of the merits of humanity. However, two years ago, when I bought an issue of Good Food magazine and found this cake staring at me from the small page of its pudding supplement, I didn’t take fruit in dessert very lightly.Scarred from a very young age by suspiciously sweet strands of so-called strawberries in yogurt pots and unsure of the sliminess of raisins-based puddings (which my sister has always refused to eat), I thought fruit and dessert were best left separate. But then time passed, and I found myself surrounded by cookbooks, food magazines and food blogs unanimously saying the exact opposite, and adding that pear and chocolate were a match made in heaven. And who am I to disagree without giving it a go? And of course, once the cake had come out of the oven and I, tentatively but resolutely, tried a thin slice and most defeinitely did not disagree. Those two ingredients are made to be enjoyed together. The aroma of the toasted hazelnuts enhances both pears and chocolate, smoothing the latter and giving a further edge to the former. Not only has this cake the merit of introducing a more confident me to the world of fresh fruit based desserts (we’ll leave dried fruit for another time, yeah?), but is also so ridiculously simple to make that you’ll have to stop yourself from casually loading your trolley with the three main ingredients every time you go for a shop.
Grease and dust with cocoa between 4 and 6 small loaf tins or small round cake tins. I used 4 loaf tins and have to say that we could probably have done with 5 or 6, as each cake was quite big once it had time to rise in the oven. Preheat your oven at 170°C. Begin by setting a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Put the butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in the bowl and let it melt slowly. Once this is done, take the bowl away from the heat, add salt and brandy and set aside to cool. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is creamy and even in colour and texture. At this point, the chocolate mixture should be cool enough to add to the egg yolks and sugar mixture. Add the ground hzelnuts and mix until evenly combined. In yet another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then fold energetically half of these into the chcolate and hazelnut mixture. Gently fold in the second half of the egg whites. If you are using 4 tins, spoon 3 heaped tablespoons in each. (If you are using more tins, try to adjust the quantities accordingly). Peel and core the pears and add one of each in the middle of the tin, makign sure it is standing upright. Bake for 30-35 minutes (but start checking after 25) until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, then unmould and serve with a dusting of icing sugar and cocoa powder.