Friday, October 23, 2009
Chocolate Pear Cakes
When you spend most of your time cooking, you end up being more and more of a perfectionist. The more you learn about cooking technique, the more you learn from watching great chefs put together a meal, and the more you test out recipe combinations, the more difficult you become on yourself. At least, that's the case for me. It's a great challenge on yourself really, and pushes you to try new things, and learn by practice makes perfect. I come up with a lot, a lot of recipes on a weekly basis - a lot of which don't make it on this blog. I've caught myself quite a few times being really disappointed when a dish I've been planning in my head just doesn't work out, or a wonderful dish proves impossible to photograph properly. "Don't be so hard on yourself" Oliver would say. But, really, it's being so hard on myself that keeps me wanting to come up with new flavour combinations that really work, or practice a cooking technique until I feel that spark - that spark that means that I got what it was all about.
When I was at the French Culinary Institute, I burnt my hand pretty severely. We were learning how to make crème caramel, and when pouring the boiling caramel in little ramekins, my hand slipped and fell into the scorching sugar. It was one of those pains that was so beyond the normal level of pain that I couldn't even cry. I just stood there in shock - after having removed the caramel from my flesh - and couldn't feel my fingers. Worst is, I don't even like creme caramel. I like caramel, but crème caramel is just not my thing. This would have made for an amazingly dramatic episode of Top Chef, or a screaming frenzy on Hell's kitchen. The point is, I can almost feel the pain in my hand if I think of boiling caramel for too long. For a couple months after this, I didn't want anything to do with pots full of sugar and water - until, I got my act together and started cooking with caramel again. I'm since painfully aware of how careful I should be when handling it but forced myself to keep on working with the sugary goodness... if only to get over my fear of it. In an odd way, being hard on myself has made me, I think, a much better cook.
All to say, that I've been toying with the idea of a chocolate cake using a whole pear. I tried a couple recipes inspired by cookbooks I had, but the texture of the cakes weren't what I was looking for. After some recipe testing, the image of the pear cake in my head was bubbling in the oven and before I knew it, it was waiting to be eaten. It's sweet, but not too sweet, and really about the pear flavor. When the pear cooks it releases a lot of its juices, which meddle with the chocolate batter and make the whole cake taste like sweet pears. I hope you give it a try - and if you do, let me know what you think!
Chocolate Pear Cakes
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of cake flour
1 good pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of milk
Preheat your oven to 350F. Add the softened butter and sugar to a medium-size mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and beat until just incorporated. Using a small whisk, whisk in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter batter in small batches, whisking the mixture until homogeneous. Whisk in the milk.
Peel the pears making sure to leave the steam intact. Using a small knife or melon baller, carefully scoop out the core of the pear leaving the pear intact. Ladle the batter evenly into 2 individual ramekins. Form a well in the middle of the batter with the back of a spoon and place the pear inside the well. Gently press down so that the batter settles around the pear.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the top of the batter is set. The inside of the batter will be gooey so the toothpick test will not be a good indication here. Let the cakes cool and serve with chocolate ganache.