I’ve been concentrating on baking with apples these past few weeks, since I bought a 10-pound sack of organic apples at the farmer’s market, but the basket of red Bartlett pears I got at the same time has been in the back of my mind all along. Pears are one of my favorite fruits to eat out of hand, but I have a harder time when it comes to cooking with them. I had already included a few with my braised chicken, which was delicious, but I had my heart set on making a pear dessert as well.
A few years ago, I made a luscious chocolate-pear jam from Mes Confitures—flavorwise, it was probably the most successful spread I have ever canned, and hopefully one of these days I’ll get around to making more of it. (That and canned pears, if I can ever get my Aunt Stasia to show me her secret.) Although we are out of chocolate chips, I scrounged up a handful of bittersweet chocolate from the back of the baking cupboard and started researching chocolate-pear desserts. None sounded as tempting as a recipe for Torta di Pere from Smitten Kitchen, a brown-butter cake made with pantry staples and studded with chunks of melty chocolate and juicy pear.
To be honest, this cake made me a little nervous, as do all baked goods that call for chunks of fresh fruit. Whereas fruit purees add uniform moistness to cakes and muffins, chunks of fruit tend to create pockets of sogginess. But if this cake suffered from that issue, the gooey chocolate and finishing dollop of whipped cream were ample distractions, and between the three of us, we devoured nearly half the cake in one sitting. (Jeremy’s excuse for this was that it probably wouldn’t taste as good cold; mine was that I kept sharing with the baby. Nolan needs no excuse, being thin as a rail and unlikely to eat fruit unless I embed it in cake and chocolate.)
Al Di La’s Torta di Pere, or Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
1 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 C sugar
2 large pears, peeled, cut into small dice (I used red Bartletts for this)
3/4 C bittersweet chocolate chunks
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs or flour, and set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick, a process that will take between 5 and 10 minutes. When done, they should form a thick ribbon when you lift the whisk.
While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter over medium high heat in a saucepan and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes; you will know it is close when it starts foaming). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixer down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter in turns: one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the last of the 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 overwork the batter or it will lose volume.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean. (Mine was done at 45 minutes using convection.)
Source: Smitten Kitchen.
Chocolate-Pear (Poires Belle-Hélène) Jam
I’ll include this recipe for fun, even though I don’t have a photo to go along with it—all of this jam was eaten up long ago. But maybe this will help remind me that it is high time to make more! It is delicious with pancakes, crepes, yogurt, ice cream sundaes, and pretty much anything else, including spoonfuls straight out of the jar.
8 C cored, thinly sliced pears
3 C sugar
1 orange, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
2 C grated 70 % chocolate
Bring sliced pears, sugar, lemon and orange juice to a simmer, then remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it melts into the fruit mixture. Allow to cool, cover and place in the fridge overnight. The next day, bring to a boil, skimming off any foam, boiling and stirring for five minutes. Pour into hot, sterilized jars (boil them for 15 minutes before pouring the jam in).
Source: Mes Confitures, by Christine Ferber.