29 March 2012

dark chocolate & pear cake

Hi there.  It's been some time since I've posted anything, which I know seems to be the case for the last few months.  The last few months has been up and down, with more downs to be honest.  Without going into detail and turning this post into a sweeping saga of the ages (feels like that sometimes I swear!), let's just say that the last few months has been akin to a barn dance or a ceilidh (yes, yes, I've been to a couple), but on repeat.  How you ask?

Think: 1 step forwards, 2 steps back, couple of shuffles to the right and slide back to the left.  Then twirl, twirl, twirl until you're just about to be sick, stop, back-track, start twirling again.  All this on shuffle and repeat.  So when my head feels a little like muffin batter - you all know what I mean aye?  Stir until just mixed, but lumpy.  It can be quite a challenge to write, or at least write something that won't have your readers think you need to be medicated.

However, I'd like to report that this funk I've been in is slowing starting to lift. Fact that you are reading this is testament to it!  Let's just say that I've been taken off shuffle and repeat (for a start!) and there's some semblance, slowly but surely, of a carefully choreographed dance happening in my life now.

Oh, and why am I using dance analogies?  Dunno.  I wouldn't even bother asking me, cos all you'll be getting is a shoulder shrug and a 'meh'!

So thanks for sticking around and being patient.  I'd invite you all around for a cuppa and a slice of this dark chocolate & pear cake, as a 'thank you' for still following my blog and tweets.  But come on, do you really think there's any left of this cake?  Just look at it!  So how about I do the next best thing - share it with all of you here on the blog. :-)

Like many other times, I looked at my fruit bowl a few days ago and noticed some fruit threatening to become over-ripe.  There was the usual suspects (bananas) and also some pears.  Having made some pear muffins in the past that failed at every level (taste and look), I'd been thinking about baking pears in some sort of cake or tart with chocolate instead and had bookmarked a list of recipes I'd come across.  The planets and stars or whatever must have been in line that day - I happened to have a block of 70% organic free trade dark chocolate in the pantry which was an impulse buy.

I agonised, yes agonised over which recipe I preferred and finally settled on one from Smitten Kitchen.

The original recipe called for a 9" springform cake tin - I have only one cake tin in my collection that is springformed but a little larger.  If you use a 9" tin like recommended, the batter will rise over the pears and chocolate bits more than mine did and your cake will look much better.

Being a spice fiend, I also added some spice to the recipe.  I think that spiced fruit in baking takes it to another level, so don't shy away from it.  And with that chocolate - whilst I think a good quality really dark chocolate makes this cake taste better, you could use whatever you fancy or can afford.  For those of you who don't like the bitterness of very dark chocolate, check out Whittakers at your supermarket.  They have a nice range of dark chocolate in varying concentration and very affordable especially when on special.  And think - you'll be supporting a local brand as well! (and no, they're not paying me to plug their product - I just like the chocolate).

Oh! And one more thing - if you don't get to eat this cake whilst it's still warm from the oven, zap it in the microwave for just a hes seconds to warm through.  That'll make the chocolate bits soften and make you, or whoever else is eating is, a very very happy person.  Happy baking! :-)

Dark Chocolate & Pear Cake
Adapted a smidge from Smitten Kitchen's recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
113g unsalted butter*
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice**
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

* I had salted butter on hand so used that instead, and omitted the salt in the recipe.
** I used Packham pears (what I had in my fruit bowl). Smitten Kitchen recommends using a softer variety like Bosc.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Butter a springform cake tin and dust with flour, and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and spices together.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). Frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Once butter is browned, remove from heat and keep in a warm spot.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. The original recipe says this could take anything from 5-9 mins depending on the type of mixer you use. I have a handheld Breville, so it felt like forever. But keep at it as this is a VERY important step to get right, or else your cake won't rise nicely.
  5. Add the sugar to the eggs and whisk a few minutes more.
  6. Just as the mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the speed down to stir, and add the flour mixture, alternating with the brown butter - add 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the butter, then 1/3 flour, followed by the remaining butter, and finally the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — 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.
  7. Pour into prepared cake tin.
  8. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top of the batter (don't stir in - trust me!), 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.

This cake is also my contribution to March's Sweet New Zealand, hosted by the gorgeously talented Emma from My Darling Lemon Thyme.