Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

Here’s the story of this cake.

I spent a couple of weeks drooling over the recipe.  I planned exactly what day I was going to make the cake and bought pears in advance, then watched them carefully so that they’d be ripe but not overly so.  On said scheduled day, I made the cake even though I was wretchedly tired and my head was in the clouds.  Then I proceeded to eat a slice.

I was disappointed.  The cake part tasted bland to me, and the pears added texture but not much flavor.  I did love the chocolate chips, but that’s a given.  I was sad.  So many people had raved about this cake and I was certain I would love it too.  But I kind of didn’t.

I wrapped up the cake, intending to let it cool a bit more on the counter before putting it in the fridge.  But then I ended up going to a friend’s house to spend the night on the spur of the moment, rushing out and completely forgetting about the cake.  I didn’t return until the next evening and for some scatterbrained reason, I continued to let it sit out.

Four days into the cake’s life, I sat down to try another slice.  I know they say that you should only blog about recipes you’re passionate about, but this recipe has received so many positive comments over the years that the problem is probably my taste buds, not the cake.  It’s like how a lot of people enjoyed Tropic Thunder, but I fell asleep half an hour in.  So I wanted to share this recipe, but before doing so I needed to sample the cake again.

And you know what?  This time, I liked it a lot more.  I think letting it sit for a little while allowed the flavors to develop and meld together a bit more.  But you know what else?  Halfway through the slice, I discovered some mold.  It was green.  I almost threw up.  I know that’s gross, but hey, that’s real life.

So.  I know I’m not exactly doing a great job at selling this cake, but here’s the deal.  Try it if you want a dessert that’s not traditional and not toothachingly sweet.  The cake is spongy, a result of beating the eggs until they’re thick and voluminous.  Pears are not a common addition to cakes, but they add an interesting, almost grainy texture and provide a subtle backdrop for the chocolate.  This is definitely one of those cakes that is better on the second day.  Just make sure you keep it in the refrigerator.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

From Smitten Kitchen

Note:  It’s very important that the eggs be at room temperature, otherwise you will not be able to whip them to the necessary volume.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, ripe but not overly ripe, peeled and cut in a small dice
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used semi-sweet chips)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.  Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, cooking until the butter browns and smells nutty, about 6-8 minutes.  In the last couple of minutes, frequently scrape the brown solids off the bottom of the pan.  Remove from heat but keep in a warm spot.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a handheld electric mixer, it will take at least nine minutes.)

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few more minutes.

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to low speed and alternatively add the flour mixture and brown butter: add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top.  They will simply lie on top of the cake, but don’t worry – the cake rises during baking and will envelop the pear and chocolate.  Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Smitten Kitchen suggests serving the cake with whipped cream with a drop of almond extract.  The restaurant from which this recipe originates served it with buttermilk ice cream, but I bet a simple vanilla bean would be delicious as well.

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