pear & chestnut cake

We’re back again with our sixth bake from the Loaf Cakes and Single Layer Cakes section of Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person. It’s officially spring, and what better way to celebrate than with a cozy bake full of wintery flavours… (pitfalls of baking recipes in the order they appear vs. seasonally). This Pear and Chestnut Cake looks so pretty coming out of the oven in a cast iron skillet with thin slices of pear fanned out over the top.

Lauren’s Take

Tis the week of the Pear and Chestnut Cake! Despite being the beginning of spring, it was nice to bake something with these familiar holiday flavours. After having to skip the persimmon cake, Julia and I were determined to find chestnuts in order to complete this bake! We valiantly went to Amazon and ordered a pre-roasted can of chestnuts (surprisingly not my most random Amazon order of the pandemic). I definitely enjoyed this cake but it was not my favourite both in terms of taste and my experience making it.

This recipe provided some struggles for me once again. My partner and I are in the middle of moving homes, so things are all over the place in terms of location/accessibility. Suffice to say, assuming that you can make this cake without the recommended stand mixer was a fatal mistake. The recipe, aptly so, describes using the stand mixer to break down the chestnuts and sugar into a paste, which will be the building block of the batter/wet ingredients. Me, once again not taking Claire’s directions as Bible, naively thought using a hand mixer would provide the same result; it did not. Chestnuts were not breaking apart, sugar was flying everywhere, and my house looked like a hot mess. I felt defeated but decided to try and use my immersion blender to break down the mixture, which eventually did work after also spraying sugary chestnut pieces into the air and all over the kitchen.

After I survived the chestnut debacle of 2021, the rest of the bake was smooth sailing. The cake itself is fairly simple but once again extremely moist; I’m realizing Claire often adds dairy to her cakes and this time crème fraiche was the dairy product of choice. The cake adds pears in two ways—small chunks cooked inside the cake and thin slices placed over top. The arranging of the pears was extremely fun and satisfying.

In terms of taste, I would say I didn’t get a lot of the chestnut flavour. Whether that was because I lost about 80% of them or because they were from an Amazon can is hard to say, but I was definitely left searching for it. I also didn’t get an overwhelming pear flavour either which may have been because my pears weren’t super ripe.

On its own the cake is definitely delicious but wasn’t really a “pear and chestnut” cake in my opinion, so I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. I will for sure make it again with a stand mixer, real chestnuts, and ripe pears though, so stay tuned for a recall decision.

Julia’s Take

I think I made it pretty clear how I felt about the cake and red wine sauce from last week, so whatever recipe came next was going to be held to a very high standard. Ultimately, this Pear and Chestnut Cake had a very tough act to follow.

I was excited about giving this one a try because it looked gorgeous in the book and was full of flavours I really enjoy. Pears – love. Chestnuts – love. Brandy – love. Like Lauren, I wasn’t able to find chestnuts in my grocery store at this time of year, but Claire recommends using canned or jarred pre-roasted and peeled chestnuts anyway, so I took her advice and ordered some online.

Overall, the process of making the cake was straightforward—especially when compared to the chestnut debacle of 2021 (see above). The most dramatic thing that happened was that I had to go to four different grocery stores to try and find crème fraiche (I could not), and ended up having to use sour cream instead. I am really liking baking the book in order overall—it’s been fun to tackle recipes by category and has been an easy way to track our progress—but I’m definitely starting to itch for more of a challenge.

The batter came together with chestnut puree, a small amount of flour, the sour cream (in my case), eggs, a decent amount of butter, brandy, and the chunks of pear—definitely on the wet side which made for a nice, moist cake. The batter actually tasted DELICIOUS; I almost preferred the batter to the actual cake. I loved getting to bake the cake in a cast iron skillet and creating a design on the top with fanned out slices of pear.

Like Lauren, the flavour didn’t blow me away and I found that the predominant taste I had was “sweet.” In my case, my pears were ripe and I had no chestnut causalities—however the skillet is lined with butter and sugar, and another 2 TBSP of sugar is sprinkled on top of the pears; while this creates a delicious crust, I found it did take over the other delicious flavours in this recipe. This was a 3-star bake for me too!

Join us next week as we continue our celebration of spring with a classic, fall favourite: Double Apple Crumble Cake 😉