9.05.2015

Not Your Usual Birthday Cake

There was no frosting, not a single garish-colored rose.

There were no candles, no fear of conflagration.

Honestly, there was very little sugar, compared to the standard-issue birthday cake.

And there was barely any flour, although it was not gluten free.

There was, however, joy. For another year past, filled with love, friendships, fortune, and travels afar.

There was excitement. For a year to come, down a meandering path strewn with yet-to-be-known adventures.

And there was great flavor in this cake. Just this morning we finished the leftover slices for elevenses.

The recipe was my birthday gift from Markipedia. He stumbled upon it when he was hot on the trail of the Cumæan Sibyl and Æneas portal to the underworld. (Dont ask!)

As a point of fact, it isnt an ancient Roman recipe at all, but rather a regional late-summer specialty from the Bay of Naples.

"You should make this," is what he said. He didn't know then that hed just given me my 57th birthday present. I knew.

This is a cake of parts, none too difficult. Substitutions can be made, but it won't be authentic.

Like many European desserts, it isn't about the sugar. It's about closure - ending a meal with something that sends you from the table with a slight smile on your lips, and happiness in your heart.

How many of you are like me, in that you want to make your own birthday cake? It isn't that I don't trust others (well, maybe that is an issue sometimes...), I simply like making something special for me.

Oh, and Markipedia's first birthday cake for me twenty years ago is another story, for another time.

~ David

Torta Ricotta e Pere

3 1/2 ounces hazelnuts, roasted and skins removed
1 3/4 ounces flour
3 1/2 ounces sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
4 egg whites, softened
1 1/2 pounds pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 1/2 ounces light brown sugar, divided
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
7 ounces ricotta cheese
1/3 cup cream
confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans with butter, and line the bases with parchment paper.

Grind the hazelnuts and flour together in the food processor until very finely chopped. Add the sugar and butter and process until thoroughly combined. Scrape nut mixture into a large mixing bowl. In another clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the nut mixture, and divide between the two cake pans. Bake for 20 minutes; remove from the oven and let cool in the pans on racks for 5 minutes. Loosen the cake from the sides of the pans, and turn out onto the racks, removing the parchment paper, and letting cool fully.

Place the pears, vanilla, and 2 1/2 ounces light brown sugar in a pan and cover with baking paper. Cook over a medium heat for 10-12 minutes, or until soft. Strain over a bowl, reserving the syrup, and let cool. Discard vanilla bean.

Whisk remaining light brown sugar, cream cheese, ricotta, and cream until thick. Fold in the cooled pears.

Trim the two cakes so that they will fit snugly in an 8-inch springform pan. Place one layer in the bottom of the springform pan. Spoon in the ricotta and pear filling, and top with the other cake round, pressing it gently so that the filling goes to the sides.

Chill for 2-4 hours. Gently loosen the springform ring, and run a knife around the outer edge of the cake. Remove the ring, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar, and serve with reserved syrup.

Serves 8-10.

48 comments:

  1. Can't decide which I like more - the cake or the prose xoxo. Your birthday present is riding around in my car - we must make a plan.

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    1. Thanks, Jill! It would be fun to get together soon!

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  2. Why put candles on there when you're just going to take them off? Beautiful cake and a wonderful present, even if you did the work.

    Happy Birthday, David!

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    1. What a good question, John! Especially when there would be so many candles! It could take all day...

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  3. oooh la la...this divine recipe takes cakes to a new level. And, for your birthday, it is a perfect match!

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    1. It was really a perfect birthday cake. It might become a tradition!

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  4. Swooning here on the island...!
    Photo of falling sugar is perfect too...
    You. Just. Get. Better. With. Time. ❤️

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    1. Thanks you, Susan! I loved taking the sugar photo - you can only imagine the mess I left behind!!! xo

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  5. Trying this comment again on a computer!

    I'm not usually a huge cake person... I'll usually enjoy one slice and then not think about it again. But this looks subtle and divine! I got all the ingredients yesterday and I'm looking forward to making it today! I hope I can convert the measurements correctly! I love European not-too-sweet desserts.

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    1. Thanks for trying again, Caroline! So glad you were successful! If you need me to convert the measurements, just say so! I know you will love this as it really isn't too sweet!

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    2. I missed your reply about converting the measurements! Oops! Oh well, I think I got them converted okay. It's chilling in the fridge now!! I can't wait to try a slice.

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    3. Caroline - I have a feeling you did just fine without me! Cant wait to hear about the results!

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  6. This sounds delicious, not too sweet but very satisfying. I love the bowl with the nuts. As always, gorgeous description.

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    1. That is exactly it, Susan - not too sweet but it really is a nice ending for a meal! The little polar bear bowl is part of a measuring cup set... Mark gave them to me a couple of years ago for Christmas.

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  7. Ah. Happy Birthday. This cakes speaks to me (many cakes do not). GREG

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    1. I am glad the two of you could speak together, Greg.

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  8. wow. i don't usually check out cakes, but this one looks fabulous! Happy Birthday! You're younger than I am!

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    1. Cakes are generally not my thing, either, Mimi. This one, however, has my full attention!

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  9. Happy, happy birthday, sweet friend! This is my kind of cake, I adore European tortes and the like because they are my too sweet and don't have that detestable frosting.
    I love this since I also adore pears.
    I end up making something else for myself, not cake, but pastries or last year, cinnamon buns. This year, we just got my fave cake from WF. Next year, is still open ;)

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    1. Thanks, Nazneen! The older I get, the less I like really sweet desserts. I don't need something cloying, just something to say, "We're done, tastebuds."

      What is your favorite kind from Whole Foods? Just curious...

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  10. Happy belated birthday wishes! Looks like you celebrated well!

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    1. Thanks, Fiona - a few friends for dinner is my favorite way to pass a day of aging.... It was a wonderful day.

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  11. Mmmmm....I am going to make this torte soon. It sounds perfect.

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  12. Happy belated birthday, David! That cake is gorgeous and I bet it tastes amazing. Putting this recipe in my bookmarks. :)

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    1. I really think you will enjoy it, Marcelle! Happy baking!

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  13. I just love that you made your own special cake. It looks and sounds delicious. And I can't wait to hear about the cake from 20 years ago! I'm intrigued!

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    1. Valentina - that cake from 20 years ago will be a fun story... I just need to figure out how to "unsimplify" the recipe! :)

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  14. Dear friend, looks like you had an absolutely wonderful and utterly delicious birthday cake - beautiful presentation and great pictures and I am sure that Mark, all your dinner guests and yourself were quite happy with your birthday dessert cake! Nothing better than enjoying a nice slice of cake that is exactly what you like!
    Would have loved to drop by for a visit with a huge bouquet of flowers (and herbs - you know me...) in my arms, gifts dangling from my wrists - alas, a bit too far for a surprise visit but a gift will be finding its way all the way to AZ, even if it arrives late.
    Another big fat belated birthday hug from all of us!
    Liebe Grüße,
    Andrea & Co.

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    1. Dear Andrea - we even used my favorite cake serve (from you!) that evening, but the light was too low to get a good photo of the serving... Thank you in advance for my birthday gift. Always fun to extend the celebration - especially with anticipation of something wonderful coming from you! Liebe Grüße~ David

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  15. You tell a good story, D. I love that you call him Markipedia and that you're happy with a recipe as your bday gift. I love that the "frosting" is between the layers of the cake and there are only 2 layers. It's such a sophisticated, yet uncomplicated cake, so much like you. Happy bday, my sweet friend. Hope I should be so lucky to meet you one day on your travels. xoxo

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    1. Thank yo so much, Colette! It was sort of an "inside out" cake. (BTW - have you seen the movie Inside Out? So fun!) I hope we meet soon, too! xo

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  16. Ooooo, I have a birthday coming up... (Happy birthday BTW) I have been wanting to add cakes to my repertoire. A good one is amazing but a bad one is so disappointing. This looks amazing!

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    1. Happy Birthday, Inger! I can't wait to hear how you celebrated (culinarily, that is!).

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  17. How nice to find your blog. Happy late Birthday! I like almost anything with Hazelnuts and your cake looks and I'm sure tastes delicious.

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    1. Thanks so much, Gerlinde! I am glad you found me, as well, and I appreciate your birthday wishes! This is a pretty wonderful cake, and I am already planning to make it again soon. (This time, I hope, with homemade ricotta!)

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  18. Happy belated birthday, David !
    And what a way to celebrate it with this gorgeous cake.
    I enjoyed reading this extraordinary well written post a lot.

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    1. Thank you, Daniela! Even though this is Italian, it reminds me a lot of desserts we had in Salzburg!

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  19. This cake looks PERFECT. I prefer birthday pie to birthday cake, but I think I could make a fool of myself by enjoying this cake a little too much...

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    1. Hah! I should have admitted to being a birthday pie guy, too! But this cake may have changed my mind. I would not think you a fool for eating several pieces of this!

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  20. This looks glorious! Much better than a garish frosted cake, methinks! I've lost my sweet tooth recently so cakes like this definitely have much more appeal. Love the inclusion of the nuts and that stunning ricotta pear filling. Gorgeous. A little healthier. A whole lot of delicious!

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    1. While not vegan, Laura, this is a wonderful and not-too-sweet cake. I think you will love it!

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  21. Now this is a belated happy birthday wish David! Life is upside down right now, and sadly blogs are hardly ever read. Which is stupid because they make me happy. So I should remedy that. Blog reading is a source of comfort and friendship!
    I adore the idea of this cake! Hazelnuts and ricota, love them! This goes to my 'make now' list. Happy year my friend!
    And I still smile whenever I read Markipedia, such a great nickname!

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    1. Paula - I so look forward to my weekends to catch up on my blog reading. And I miss bloggers when they are not there (hint!😉) - you are my social life!

      This cake is amazing, and I look forward to making it again soon! Glad you like Mark's nickname! What till you meet him - he is a walking dictionary!

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  22. Happy belated birthday, David!! <:)

    This sounds like a wonderful cake, and I love that the recipe was from someone so dear, makes it more special that way.

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    1. I love that he didn't even know I was so excited about this recipe! Thanks for the birthday wishes, Cathleen!

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