High Country Baking: Up your Thanksgiving dessert game with this walnut pear torte
Special to the Daily
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column, published on Thursdays, presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
This rustic torte is a nice addition to a Thanksgiving buffet and a lovely way to end any cool-weather meal. It features pears soaked in rum and brown sugar. They melt into a moist, nutty-flavored cake, leaving only their complex sweetness on your tongue. The combination creates a deep, rich, satisfying old world flavor. Serve it warm, with a scoop of ice cream or rum-flavored whipped cream, and you’ve got yourself one fine dessert.
My advice? (1) Make sure the pears are firm and just turning ripe, if they’re soft, the torte will be mushy. (2) Though you could make it with all-purpose flour, try to find whole wheat pastry flour (try Natural Grocers and/or City Market); the nutty taste of whole wheat is a significant part of this dessert’s success. (3) Lastly, serve the torte the day you make it, when the flavors and textures are distinct.
Walnut Pear Torte
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in an eight-and-a-half inch springform pan
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2 tablespoons dark or light brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 firm, ripe pears
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 ¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
A generous ½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Grease and flour the springform pan with a baking spray that contains flour.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons of dark or light brown sugar and the dark rum and stir until all the sugar dissolves into the rum. Core the pears (leave the skin on) and cut them into slices about ¼ of an inch thick. Place the slices in the brown sugar-rum mixture and gently toss them until they’re all well coated and none of the brown sugar-rum remains in the bottom of the bowl. Set this aside for about fifteen minutes while you make the cake’s batter so the pears can soak up the liquid.
3. Blend the melted butter and vanilla and set aside. Put the walnuts, light brown sugar, and flour in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground.
4. Place the egg whites and salt in a medium, grease-free bowl (not plastic) and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until the whites form stiff peaks, stopping before they appear dry. Fold the nut mixture into the egg whites until combined. Add the butter-vanilla in small amounts and fold until well mixed. The egg whites will deflate, that’s okay. Spread the batter in the pan and level the top. Overlap the sliced pears on top of the batter in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle the tablespoon of granulated sugar over the pears.
5. Move the filled pan to a cookie sheet (to catch drips) and bake until the top is golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. You may need to cover the edges of the torte with thin strips of aluminum foil if they get too brown before the center of the torte is fully baked.
6. Remove the torte to a rack to cool. After about twenty minutes, gently run a knife around the side of the pan, unlock and remove it. Serve the torte warm, topping each slice with some vanilla ice cream or rum-flavored whipped cream. If you make it earlier in the day, leave it in the pan and let it cool. Then, right before serving, remove it from the pan, slice and reheat the pieces in a 325 degree oven until they are warm to the touch.
This recipe is a variation of one published in Enlightened Cakes.
Dr. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She’s lived in Frisco since 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at email@example.com.