Pear up: Red and green Comice pears partner with hazelnuts to make a delicious Christmas cake
5 tablespoons whole milk
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground hazelnuts, plus 1/4 cup for serving
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ripe Comice pears
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the sides and the bottom of a 3-inch-deep 9-inch springform pan with olive oil, and dust with fresh bread crumbs.
In a large bowl, use a handheld electric mixer on medium-low to cream together the butter, 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, the vanilla, and the milk until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, 1/4 cup of the hazelnuts, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix with a wooden spoon for 1 minute, until combined. Set the batter aside.
Peel and core the pears, and slice each one into 8 even slices. Place the pears in a bowl, and toss with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the lemon zest and juice.
Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter, forming two concentric circles with 6 slices on the inside circle and 18 on the outside, with the stem end of each piece pointing toward the center. (They will sink a bit). Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the cake is golden brown on top and toothpick inserted toward the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
Release the springform sides and place the cake on a platter. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 1/4 cup ground hazelnuts, dust with the confectioners' sugar, and cut into slices to serve.
(Mario Batali is the chef behind 25 restaurants, including Eataly, Del Posto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo.)