In November, I had the opportunity to observe the incredible Thomas Story, the in-house photographer for Sunset magazine, at work on set. More to come on that later, but during the photo shoot we had the chance to indulge in a delicious treat of hazelnut goodness that I haven't been able to forget. This recipe is my attempt not to recreate, but to capture a small essence of that day.
A cream pie is just what is needed in March, one of those months that feels so transitional and the seasonal offerings are a little meager. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are slowly shrugging off the winter, and spring is offering teasing glances of its much-anticipated arrival. It was a long winter, indeed, but the end is in sight.
A little decadence then, shall we? This pie brings together some of my favorite dessert components. Cream and chocolate, hazelnuts and pears. A heavenly quartet. The reserves of the autumn pear harvest are dwindling, but I find the pears essential to balance the sweetness.
Poaching the pears in ginger creates a sharpening effect on the layers of cream and chocolate, and a generous sprinkling of hazelnuts to finish each slice adds a wonderful crunchy texture in every bite. Using a hazelnut flour crust deepens the hazelnut flavor throughout, but a traditional shortcrust pastry also would be delicious.
Hazelnut Cream Pie with Ginger-Poached Pears
4 Bosc or Bartlett pears
⅓ cup sugar
1 two-inch cinnamon stick
1 two-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups hazelnut flour
¾ tsp salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2 egg whites
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
⅓ cup chocolate hazelnut spread
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup whipping cream, plus 2 Tbsp sugar
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cups heavy cream
Peel and core the pears with a small knife. In a medium pot, combine the pears, sugar, cinnamon stick, ginger, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the pears are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pears to a large bowl, reserving the liquid.
Heat the pear liquid to boiling. Cook, uncovered, until the syrup is reduced to about 3 cups, about 15 minutes.
Gently pour liquid over the pears. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours, turning the pears occasionally. When the pears are chilled, remove them from the syrup and place on a towel and gently dry. Cut into thin slices.
To make the hazelnut pie crust, heat oven to 350°F. mix the hazelnut flour, salt, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Add egg whites and mix until thoroughly blended.
Butter an 8- to 10-inch pie plate. Line the edges and bottom of the pan with the crust mixture, pressing and squeezing the mix firmly into place until even. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to create an even surface. Line crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. Blind bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, then remove foil and pie weights and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until crust is golden brown.
In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese, chocolate hazelnut spread, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. In another bowl, beat the whipping cream and the sugar until stiff peaks form.
Fold whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until smooth and a consistent color.
In a small saucepan, warm the cream for the ganache. When cream begins to just simmer, remove from heat and add the bittersweet chocolate. Let sit for several minutes and then mix until smooth.
When the pie crust has cooled completely, create a thin layer with the pears. Next, spoon hazelnut cream mixture until it reaches about ½ inch from the top. Pour the chocolate ganache and smooth with a icing spatula. Top with pears and toasted hazelnuts and chill for at least an hour. Serve with a dollop of cream and a generous sprinkling of hazelnuts. Enjoy!