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Pear up: Red and green Comice pears partner with hazelnuts to make a delicious Christmas cake

By Mario Batali, Tribune Content Agency on

This Torino-born cake is simple to make, but its success is based entirely on the quality of the hazelnuts and the pears. I love Comice pears for their complex flavor and juicy texture, and because they hold their shape. Stout, plump and available in red and green hues, the Comice variety is often referred to as the "Christmas pear," which is exactly why I turn to such a dessert during the holidays.

I like to make this cake first thing on Christmas morning before anyone in the house is awake. To me, there's something about baking in a springform pan and achieving tall, exposed sides of the cake that creates a magnificence you can't quite get from a tart or galette. In concept, this recipe is similar to a puff pastry pear tart tatin (which would be a fantastic alternative if you are pressed for time). However, if you have a few extra minutes to whip up the batter, all you need to do is layer the pears and wait for the magic to happen in the oven.

Leftover pear slices become a perfect snack while waiting for the cake to bake. Pair with a soft cheese like fontina or Brie to experience the sublime excellence of this festive fruit that is only available through January. Though it's almost impossible to resist straight out of the oven, my pear and hazelnut cake makes for an absolutely stunning table display if you can wait to serve it after dinner.

Pear and Hazelnut Cake

Serves 8 to 10

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

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1/2 cup finely ground fresh breadcrumbs

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup for the pears

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

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