Friday, March 2, 2012

Chocolate Cakes with Pears & Caramel

It’s March! And it looks like the atmosphere is determined to deliver more rain and snow. So naturally that conjures up thoughts of a cozy meet-up of spice and pears and that soother of all souls, chocolate. It feels like a good time for a dish of some down to earth dessert that delivers a good dose of comfort and pure pleasure in this wintry climate.

The Fastest Fudge Cake is from chocolate powerhouse Alice Medrich. The recipe is not at all fussy - a quick snap of the fingers and it’s ready to go in the oven. The butter is melted rather than creamed and the whole thing comes together in one bowl, so it comes in handy as a last minute preparation. For this dessert, I’ve baked just a half recipe, which amounts to seven cupcakes.

The Very Spicy Caramel Pears are out of Room for Dessert, the great first cookbook from David Lebovitz. The pears are baked in the oven in an easy caramel sauce composed of butter, brown sugar and the warmth of some very pungent spices and a blast of booze. When they’re done, the sauce is strained and reduced with a splash of cream added to smooth things out.

So if this weather has put a crimp in some of your best laid plans for getting around town, make the best of it. If you’re in the mood for a warm indulgence on a cold day, this composition from two of our best dessert authors should fill the bill.

Bench notes:
- I use an ice cream scoop for uniform portioning of the cake batter.
- Fill the empty wells of your cupcake pan 1/3 of the way with water to keep the entire pan at an even baking temperature and prevent it from over-heating.
- I list the baking time for the cakes as a spread of 15 – 18 minutes because ovens vary so greatly. Be sure to check them on the early side to avoid over-baking and dry cake, especially if your oven runs hot. The cakes are done if they spring back when touched. A toothpick test should come out with a few moist crumbs. Let them cool in the pan for just a minute and then remove the cakes to a wire rack. Removing them from the residual heat of the pan helps to keep them from becoming tough and rubbery.
- If you prefer, make the whole cake recipe and bake in an 8” or 9” cake pan. The full recipe is at Fine Cooking.
- Steam burns can be very painful. When removing the foil from the baking dish, lift the corner that is farthest and away from you to avoid burning yourself.
- You can leave the cream out of David’s spicy caramel recipe if you prefer. Substitute your favorite spices. It would also be very delicious with sliced apples, baked for about 25 minutes. David serves his recipe with vanilla ice cream.
- For presentation, I sliced off the slight dome of the cupcake and inverted onto the plate.
- Sadly, David's Room for Dessert is out of print and now costs a small fortune if you can find it, but many of those recipes (completely updated and revised) are featured in Ready for Dessert along with a selection of new recipes.

Chocolate Cakes with Pears & Caramel
Cake adapted from Alice Medrich
Pears adapted from Room for Dessert by David Lebovtiz

Serves 6 – 7

Fastest Fudge Cake (1/2 recipe)

1/2 C flour
3 T unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
1/4 t baking soda
1/8 t salt
2 oz (4 T) butter, melted and warm
1/2 C + 2 T brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 C hot water

Very Spicy Caramel Pears

2 oz (4 T) butter
1/2 C light or dark brown sugar, packed
15 whole cloves
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 t black peppercorns
1/4 C Cognac, brandy or rum [I used rum]
4 pears, Comice or Bosc [I used D’Anjou]
1/4 C heavy cream

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 7 wells in a standard cupcake pan.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

Combine the melted butter and brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir just until all the flour is moistened. Pour the hot water over the batter and stir just until it’s incorporated and the batter is smooth. Scoop the batter into the prepared cupcake pan, filling each one about 3/4 full.

Bake about 15 - 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool cakes in the pan for just a minute and then remove them to cool on a wire rack.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Choose a baking dish large enough to hold the sliced pears in a single layer.

Cut the butter into small pieces and place it in the baking dish with the brown sugar. Place the dish in the oven for a few minutes until the butter is melted.
Crush the whole spices with a mortar and pestle or place them in a plastic bag and pound them with a rolling pin.

Peel and core the pears and cut them into quarters.

Remove the dish from the oven and add the crushed spices and liquor. Stir to combine all the ingredients. Add the pears and toss everything together to coat the fruit. Arrange the pears in a single layer.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size and firmness of your pears. The pears should be easily pierced with a knife but not mushy. Stir and baste them a couple times during cooking to make sure they’re evenly coated with sauce.

Remove the dish from the oven and lift the pears out of the cooking liquid and into a bowl. Scrape all the juices and spices from the baking dish into a sauté pan. Add 1/4 cup cream and cook over medium heat until the mixture turns a deep color, thickens and caramelizes. Strain the finished sauce over the pears and serve with the chocolate cake.


Redd H from Salted Spoon said...

These look divine! I imagine the texture to be just splendid! Thanks for sharing!

Elly McCausland said...

So this is basically my ideal dessert. No, my ideal food. Utterly gorgeous - I love the idea of those pears.

Victoria said...

This looks splendid. I love pears, and the combination of pears and chocolate is wonderful, so I know this will be delicious.

And speaking of pears, here is a quote from Nigella Lawson, when she described how to make Poires Belle Helene in How to Eat:

"When they’re good, they’re wonderful, but I am beginning to think Ralph Waldo Emerson was being optimistic when he wrote, 'There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.'

So cooking them is always a good idea!

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Those pears! I could eat them absolutely, whole heartedly on their own. It's before 8 am on a saturday and I'm tempted to do it NOW. I love the Nigella quote Victoria posted too. Thanks for sharing!

pastry studio said...

Hello Pear People!!

Victoria, I was just thinking the precise same thing as I was preparing this dessert. Pears are one of the great illusive pleasures of the world. There is that perfect moment when they are at their peak and then something happens. These pears were in a bowl on my table and started to shout out to me in the same way that bananas do when they are about to step into another realm. So I grabbed them quickly and into the caramel they went. But I really love a perfect fresh pear and those times when you eat it at just the right moment are BLISS.