Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hazelnut Cake with Pears & Ginger

I think I need help. I truly do. I mean, my life is being taken over by the things I make. Just look at the wild yeast starter for instance. It requires to be fed twice a day. Each time I feed it, I can only keep a small portion of it and the rest, well, the rest has to be either thrown out or used, right? And if I decide to use it, it's now or never. The wee beasties won't wait. Not even one hour. When they are ready, they are ready. Either you put them to work or they kamikaze into oblivion, turning embittered and nasty along the way. So I have no choice. And it's eating me. I don't have either the time (I am back out of retirement working full-time until mid-December) or enough hungry mouths to feed (even though I do have a fair number of those, counting immediate family, friends and neighbors), to bake every single day. But I hate to throw food away. I just hate it. So the other day I made the sourdough chocolate cake from the King Arthur website. It came out voluptuously plump (I didn't even have time to frost it, it went out to my daughter's house in its birthday suit, demurely cloaked in confectioner's sugar, and pff! it was gone, no picture, sorry!). It had been so quickly put together that yesterday I decided I might as well make another cake. See how easy thrift entraps you in its twisted logic! However, since I was being virtuous (making a cake we didn't need to save wild yeasts we didn't need either), I decided to take stock and look around. What else did I have to use in a hurry before it turned on me? Three pears which were definitely starting to look like they were ready to go over the hill, some fresh ginger which was shriveling under my eyes and a pint of creamy homemade yogurt (which was perfectly fresh as I had just made it the day before but which I also had to find a use for, right?). I also had a big jar of hazelnut butter that a friend brought me from France a few months ago and I looove the taste of pears with hazelnuts and ginger. So here is what I came up with! Totally haphazard (hey, I even forgot to put eggs in) but it worked! It's going out tonight to some friends. Maybe I'll be able to sneak a slice back home. My starter is back on timeout in the fridge, so I won't be baking tomorrow. Too bad...
Ingredients (for one 9x9 square cake and 11 hazelnut-ginger babycakes): (if you are making just the cake, use half of all the ingredients except the first four) 15g butter, melted 25g light brown sugar 3 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and sliced 50g candied ginger, sliced or chopped 240g mature sourdough starter (hydration: 100%) 12 g ground ginger 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and grated 12g baking soda 260g wholemilk yogurt 130g hazelnut butter, smooth (can be replaced by another roasted nut butter) 100g agave syrup 225g all-purpose flour 225g low-fat powdered milk, reconstituted 1 pinch of salt pieces of candied ginger to top the babycakes (optional) Method:
  1. Heat the oven to 375F/191C making sure the lower rack is in
  2. Put melted butter in the cake pan and rotate to spread evenly
  3. Dust with brown sugar
  4. Arrange the sliced pears on top
  5. Put the pan in the oven, bake for 20 minutes and take out of the oven
  6. Chop or slice candied ginger on top of the pears, pushing it with a teaspoon into the pear syrup at the bottom
  7. Meanwhile, gently fold all the other ingredients into the starter and mix well
  8. Pour the starter mixture into the pan until three quarter full
  9. Pour the rest (if using) into muffin pan paper liners, sticking a piece of candied ginger on top of each babycakes
  10. Bake at 375F/191C for 40 minutes (checking during the last 10 minutes that the cake or babycakes are not browning too fast. If this is the case, tent some foil over them. The cake and babycakes are done when a tester comes out clean.
  11. Let the cake cool for a few minutes in the pan on a rack
  12. Then, before the juices at the bottom have time to set and stick, turn the cake upside down on a plate.
  13. Let it cool completely before eating.
All these babies are going to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for Yeastpotting. Thanks, Susan! I love Yeastspotting. It's a wonderful way to bring us bakers together...


  1. MC,
    You make me laugh...
    Your starter is back on timeout...
    You know they do have a 12 step program for bakers...I joined...I can send you a link..

  2. That cake looks so good! (I love your baking so much I had to sneak over here before YeastSpotting friday, lol!!)

    I think I need the 12 step program Judd talked about. I have to cut down on baking so many sweets! (Coming here isn't helping)

  3. @Judd, send away! I may not join but I'd love to peek!
    @Mimi, these sweets are actually good for you (yeah, right!). Well, at least they don't feature high-fructose corn syrup or cottonseed oil! Homemade yogurt, wild yeast, hazelnut butter and three kinds of ginger, how virtuous can you get!

  4. I know the feeling! I hate to throw food away too, but I'm also too fond of buying and cooking and baking food we don't need... it's a dangerous disease ;-)

  5. I wish I had time to bake more and better! Will give a loaf a go tomorrow! These look wonderful, I love hazelnut paste!


  6. Love this post and the top cake pic?? Totally tonguegasmic (to quote my baking/cooking/awesome friend Rachel @


  7. @Jeremy, me too! Isn't it too bad that we can't get it here?
    @Vi, thanks for visiting! It means a lot to me...Will check out Rachel's blog.

  8. You can get it here, Le Pain Quotidien makes two versions, chocolate and just hazelnut, shall I bring one with me when we meet?

  9. Hi, Jeremy ! Thank you for offering but I still have half a jar, so I am okay. Next time I go to NYC though, I'll check it out. Mine contains 100% hazelnuts and nothing else. Last time I checked Hazelnut butter (or paste, I am not sure what to call it) on this side of the Atlantic, it had other stuff in it besides hazelnuts. Could you check your jar if you have one and let me know? The French one I have is meant for baking, I don't think you could easily spread it on a piece of bread for instance. It is nothing like Nutella...

  10. Forgot the Hazelnut paste at Pain Qou is the sweet version, not healthy but heavenly! None the less there are place you can get hazelnut butter online, there is a company called Crabtree company from Oregon and I am sure plenty more. Don't think they are as quite the standard as French stuff!

  11. So you kind of invented a tarte-tatin with pears and ginger. I am in awe of your dedication to not wasting wild sourdough beasties. All I stretch to generally is a pancake or two.

    As to hazelnut butter, when I didn't have any in the house here a couple of weeks ago, someone said, "just make some". And I did. And it was good. Maybe you can do the same with hazelnuts, although it will probably take a more powerful machine than my little thing on a stick.

  12. hi,
    just wanted to say thanks for the recipes. This couldn't have come at a better time. I ventured into pancake making just so as to avoid throwing away leftover starter (how can pp bring themselves to throw away these lively, bubbly, sweet-smelling things? They're ALIVE !!!), but would like to go beyond pancakes. So TWO new ideas to try out, thanks!

    Also wanted to say thanks in general. I read your blog regularly but never commented. I share your preference for keeping things as natural and wholesome as possible, but as a rookie baker, could never match your experience and awesome, awesome skill. I also admire your passion and have enjoyed all your posts on artisan bakers. Your last post, for example, abt the French-American baker, filled me with admiration for his unswerving dedication. I think you're just like them, perhaps on a smaller scale :)

    Oh and a while back, i made the Nancy Silverton baguettes that you so love. I think it was a happy confluence of factors (maybe my starter was just at its best then), cos i tried it again but it wasn't quite the same, but oh boy, i'll never forget that first baguette. Imperfect (the crust was overbaked in my lousy oven) yet such taste, such sweetness, such complexity and depth of taste in every single bite! I wanted to sing (in between shoving bread down) and dash out and let everyone have a try, you get the picture LOL...I have eaten many many breads in France but i must say, this was something. And i wanted to thank you and tell you, but i never did..shame on me, so a belated thanks now.

    Happy baking and keep the beautiful breads going :))

  13. Hello, Anonymous, thank you so much for your warm and uplifting comments! Yes, I am passionate and even though I do my best to hide it ;-), I guess it comes through...
    I am also glad to see that I am not the only one loath to do away with the beasties...If you stumble upon any other idea, please let me know. I am always game for something new. Meanwhile I'll be posting a new cake recipe soon. It turned out pretty good, so stay tuned! If you care to write to me at, I'd love to hear about your bread-eating in France!

  14. wow that cakes looks amazing - I dream of having my own sourdough starter just so I can make recipes with the toss off - enjoy your ruminations on the ironies of thrift



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