The Amalfi coast might just be the dreamiest place on earth. The colors of the buildings, veneered wood boats zipping between the coves, and the towns built into the sides of the cliffs. It pretty much made Talented Mr. Ripley that much more amazing as a film. From the appeal of the picture-perfect towns tucked into the coastline and the blue topaz waters goes well beyond Hollywood hype. I'm heading there later this year for a family vacation and am already dizzy researching things to do and places to eat. So, when I came across this Amalfi Pear Ricotta Hazelnut Cake that Emiko Davies shared, I had to try it. It's inspired by a recipe of Sal De Riso—a celebrity pastry chef from the region and my family now requests it for special occasions. I've found it's super adaptable—I like it frozen rather than refrigerated and I switch the fruit (from pears to berries) based on the season.
blended and sifted (or use hazelnut or almond meal)
melted and cooled, plus more room temperature butter for lining the cake pan
cored and small dice
cut in half and seeds scraped
or Spiced Pear Brandy or Kirsch (optional)
For the hazelnut sponge: Heat an oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a 7-inch cake pan with butter, line with a circle of parchment paper, top with more butter, dust with flour then tap out any excess flour. Combine 2/3 cup of the sugar and all eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat until the mixture becomes very pale and fluffy and triples in size, about 5 minutes. Fold in the hazelnut meal, flour, and butter until just incorporated.
Pour the mixture the prepared cake pan and bake until browned and springy on top, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Hazelnut sponge can be made 2 days in advance. Store at room temperature, unsliced and wrapped in plastic.
For the filling: Meanwhile, drizzle a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a small frying pan and warm over medium heat. Add the diced pear, 1/3 cup of the sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and liqueur, if using. Stir occasionally until the pears begin to cook and release liquid and soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and cool completely.
Whip the ricotta and remaining 1 cup of the granulated sugar together until very smooth and creamy. Fold in the whipped cream and then the cooled pears, along with some of their syrup. Save a couple of tablespoons of syrup to drizzle on the top and bottom layers of cake.
To assemble: Line the same cake pan you used to bake the cake with parchment paper (or use a 7-inch springform pan if you have it). Slice the hazelnut sponge horizontally so you have two discs. (Be gentle: It is a bit of crumbly cake). Place the bottom half in the cake pan, cut side up. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of pear syrup evenly over the cake then spoon over the ricotta mixture and smooth over with a spatula. Drizzle the rest of the reserved pear syrup over the cut side of the top layer of sponge and carefully place it on top of the ricotta filling, cut side down.
You can chill the cake for several hours in the fridge but I prefer to freeze it so that it's almost like an ice cream cake. Remove the cake from the pan, dust with powdered sugar, then cut carefully into slices with a sharp knife and serve.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp