Wednesday, February 29, 2012

midnight in pears - dark chocolate & pear cake

cake is pretty much always a good idea. bold words, i know, but they're true.

you may think that cake is too much of a hassle. you may think you don't have time to make a cake. that may be sort of true, but i'm about as busy as i've ever been and i'm still happy that i made time for cake. you can do it!

this cake was part of the spread at our friends' annual pun-filled oscar party. past offerings have included "precious: based on the liquor gin by bombay sapphire" and (from others) "tuna avotartare." this year i made this cake - midnight in pears - and "The Help yourself to some biscuits and gravy." other people brought "eggstremely loud and incredibly quiche" and "gary old ham," among other delicacies. a good time was had by all! oscar fever!

i wasn't super sure about chocolate and pears, but they actually go together remarkably well. this recipe was based on one from epicurious, but i made a few changes because i am incapable of leaving well enough alone.

one thing i always do with cakes (and particularly with upside-down fruit-containing cakes) is line the pan with parchment paper. this makes it so much simpler to get it out of the pan in one piece and it keeps it looking pretty. also, origami!

take a square of parchment paper that is a little bigger than your cake pan. i used an 8" pan with 2" sides. fold it in half and then in half again and again like this (so basically you start with a square, fold to a rectangle, fold to a triangle, and keep folding the triangle into smaller triangles):

keep folding until you have a narrow series of folds with a point at the end.

then just put the point of the paper in the center of the pan and use scissors to cut the end of the paper at a very slight curve so that when you unfold the parchment it fits neatly into your pan.
et voila!

you can also put the pan on top of the paper and trace around it with a pencil or whatever, but i think this is faster and more fun. also, who has pencils anymore?

butter the pan underneath the parchment, then butter the sides, then go ahead and butter the parchment as well. live a little!

now, go ahead and preheat your oven to 350. then cut up your pears. i used three bosc pears, because they looked best at the market, but you can probably use whatever. i don't really know anything about differences between pears. i'm sure someone on the internets does, though, if you're interested.

peel each, cut them in half, and take out the seedy area. i used a metal teaspoon and it worked really well and looked pretty, but if you are a Fancy Person with a melon baller, you could also use that. if you are a normal person, you could use like a spoon or summat. then just set the cut half on a board and cut slices as below. i got about 8 slices per half.

time for caramel!

in the original recipe it felt like the caramel recipe they use is a little fussy. it also uses a lot of water which is just going to boil off anyway. i used 3/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water and it worked fine. you put these in a scrupulously clean pan and heat it over mediumish heat. don't mess with it! the sugar will dissolve and it will start bubbling and be very hot and scary. eventually, it will get all golden at the outer edges. you can swirl it to ensure that it all goldens at the same time. let it get pretty dark, then add 1 tablespoon of butter, stir it in and put it in your prepared pan. here is a video for making a caramel sauce that shows the process better. this is basically the same, but without the cream and with different amounts of things.

seriously, though, this stuff is REALLY hot, so don't be tempted to lick the spoon or drip it on your arm or anything. not that you would, but don't. now that i'm thinking about it, you could probably also just put some brown sugar and a little butter underneath the pears and not bother with the caramel and it would also probably work fine. a little splash of bourbon is a good idea at this point, too - some for you, some for the cake!

then just layer the pears in there. i like to use the prettiest pears on the bottom layer, since that's what you'll see once you upside-down it. but you don't have to be too fussy.

then set it aside (if you use the caramel, the pan will be awfully hot, so put it on a trivet or something, for god's sake) and chop up some dark chocolate (~4 oz).

add it to 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter and put it in a pan over low heat. or you could probably microwave it, but i don't have a microwave. i actually used the same pan i made the caramel in, because i am quite lazy. keep an eye on it, but you can mix up the dry ingredients while the chocolate and butter melt (unless you have the heat too high don'tdothat).

i just put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them a bit - sifting always seems a little frou-frou. once the chocolate and butter melt, add 2-3 tablespoons of coffee and beat them with 2/3 of a cup of sugar for 3-5 minutes. i always add coffee to chocolate cakes - it doesn't make them taste coffee-y, they just get more chocolatey. the original recipe says "until light and fluffy" but i just don't see how that's possible with melted chocolate. then add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing full in between each addition, then the vanilla. if you have some chocolate extract, a teaspoon of that is a good call, too.

then add 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture, then 1/4 cup of milk, then another 1/3 of the dry mixture, then the other 1/4 cup milk, then the rest of the dry, mixing in between each addition. this sounds like a hassle, but it really takes like 2 minutes, tops. then just pour it over the pears and caramel.

you can taste a little of the batter, if you like. it is very good. bake it for 45 minutes to an hour. i baked mine for an hour because it seemed very jiggly on top still after 45 minutes, but then i felt like it was a little dry, so i would probably take it out after 55 minutes or a little less next time. it depends on your pan size, too - if you have a 9" pan i'd maybe let it go for only 45 minutes.

it's not like it's going to be bad, either way. we ate it right up.

adapted from upside-down pear chocolate cake, by cory schreiber & julie richardson

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1 splash bourbon (after caramel is in the cake pan)

3 pears

4 oz chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup butter
2-3 tablespoons nice dark coffee
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla (+ 1 teaspoon chocolate extract, optional)
5 oz flour (1 cup)
1 oz cocoa (1/3 cup)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

listening to: i can't get this new santigold song out of my head. the video quality isn't great, but i like the girls with the fancy umbrellas and live shows are always exciting. here is what i guess is a more official video with weird animation. also phoenix (did you know myspace was still a thing? me either!)


  1. purty, especially on that platter. also fun to see your music inspiration for the cake!