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
Serves 2

1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
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
2 pears

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.

39 comments:

chriesi said...

Oh my...that is gorgeous!

tara said...

The pears looks adorable all swaddled in the batter.

And the story of your burn gave me shivers! I knicked my knuckle pretty badly the other day with my knife (still bandaged) and I will admit it makes one a little gun shy in the kitchen. Good for you on getting over that fear.

Dawn said...

oh my gosh! I'm so sorry. Yes, yes yes I can understand your pain. I've often gotten a bit gun-shy with chopping & slicing. I can't even imagine that pain. So sorry.
Your pear cakes came out perfect, as always :-)
I wish I could go to the FCI...

Miss Meat and Potatoes said...

Get out of town. What a gorgeous, gorgeous recipe. I will let you know what I think of it - it just may be a while before I get to it;)

Mary said...

How great does this look! That caramel burn sounds dreadful. I hope you had water close by and that it didn't scar. I have a white cake that I make with pears. It's nice but yours sounds better. I'll try it ASAP. Have a great weekend.

Chanel11 said...

The same thing happened to my girlfriend when we were in school,one of our other friends accidentally poured it over her hand - the sight of the blisters alone made me feel sick -knowing what she went through I feel for you also. But well done for overcoming your fear.
The cakes look tremendous.

Jillian said...

Yikes, that is a scary caramel story. This pear cake, however, is beautiful!

AmyRuth said...

Oh I love your new creation! Did you use the tiny little sugar pears? I think that is what you have, yes? I have some in my frig. What fun! Thank you for sharing your recipe. The story about your burn is unreal. Your heart must have skipped a beat.
AmyRuth

Coco Bean said...

Ugg, I am still so stuffed from dinner but I could eat three or four of those! My roommate and I are sitting here discussing the irresistible thought of digging the spoon into the pear, then the chocolate... mmmm.... mmmm... mmm..... OK. Thats enough. I need some.

Nina Timm said...

Other than hot tomatoes, caramel must be the worst thing to burn with.....The dessert makes up for the pain, that's for sure. Lovely and rustic!!

zurin said...

I'm so sorry about the caramel accident. I can just imagine the pain. And I'm with you about being hard on yourself..cos thats what drives me too. Ive made some good dishes but took bad pictures and it always so frustrating that I don't know which is worse..bad food or bad pictures...now that I have a blog.:S

Jessica@Foodmayhem said...

This looks absolutely amazing! Three questions: What size ramekins and what size pears? Also, since you did a couple of tries, did you try heavy cream instead of milk? I only ask because I rarely have milk at home but I always have heavy cream and just wondering if I could do it with that or if you've already tried that and it didn't work. Thanks! It really looks stunning!

Chocolate Shavings said...

AmyRuth: I used red Bartlett pears. See below:

Jessica@Foodmayhem: I used red Bartlett pears, but you could use regular Bartlett pears instead, or any pear variety that is good for baking.
The pears have to snugly fit once you put them in the ramekin. The batter needs to rise as it bakes and surround the fruit. If it has too much room to spread, the batter won't cover up the fruit enough. I used the same ramekins I use to make individual-sized souffles.
As for the cream question: there is only 1 tablespoon of milk, and it's mainly there to lighten up the batter and make it less dense. You can definitely thin out the batter with a touch of cream instead - milk is lighter though but I don't think it will make any major difference. I hope that helps, and let me know what you think of the cake!

Valérie said...

Yikes! I can only imagine how much that caramel incident must have hurt! I've heard enough horror stories about caramel to be very nervous whenever I have to deal with it - let's hope my luck holds out!

Those little cakes look divine! I have a bunch of pears lying around, I may just try this recipe. If I do, I'll report back!

Barbara said...

OMG. What a picture! Beautiful. And it doesn't look impossible to make, either!
I know- is anything more painful than caramelized sugar? And you dropped your entire hand in it. I don't want to think about it.

Cakebrain said...

I feel your pain! I too have had more than one nasty burn...with scars to prove it that lasted years. My thing is I get oven burns. Even with mitts on I manage to have my arm touch the side of the oven. I've had sugar burns too so I know how horrible that feels like. Your chocolate pear cakes are so creative and beautiful! Lovely pics!

Darina said...

These look so elegant and easy, too. they'd be sure to impress at a dinner party. I know what you mean about growing perfectionism, I suffer from the same problem. I have all sort of scars and burns, but I can't imagine the pain of boiling caramel. That must have been truly awful. I hope you healed well.

Junglefrog said...

Ooo, that story of you getting the burn is pretty scary. It's one of the fears I have when handling caramel (which I am not so fond of actually) I love these chocolate pear cakes. Looks gorgeous!

Rose said...

OUCH! Burns are the marks of learning as a chef! Back when I first started I gathered so many burn marks that people thought I was a "cutter" Hah! Nope - just clumsy, I'd have to tell them.

Beautiful dessert. I love the natural shape of whole or halved pears in desserts. Paired with chocolate? Outstanding!

pigpigscorner said...

gosh..the kitchen is really a dangerous place. Great creation, and presentation is beautiful!

MaryBeth said...

Simply gorgeous looking dish, I bet the pear and chocolate make a great combo.

MaryMary said...

So sorry about the burn...sounds miserable.

I admit to a bit of envy when you spoke of cooking as much as you do...lucky you! These cakes are stunning!

danazia said...

Girl......you leave me speechless. Now, let me tell you, that is a very difficult thing to leave me! I am thunderstruck by your beautiful pictures and delightful recipes. Basically, you rock!

Chocolate Shavings said...

danazia: Thank you! I'm glad you like the recipes, let me know what you think if you give this a try!

Shelle said...

If you used small ramekins, do you think seckle pears work with this recipe? They're very small but very sweet.

Sweet and Savory said...

Sorry about your burn.

frockandfork said...

that is so so so so beautiful! I am just about to print the recipe for the future reference :) Once again, this is an absolutely stunning dessert!

Amelia PS said...

what a presentation!!!

Jennifer said...

Speechless! YUM!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Wow. Photography again, is so well done. This is super creative.

Laura

elayyouaray said...

Delicious! Since I didn't have any butter in my fridge, I used coconut oil. I also used oat milk since I didn't have any cows milk. It did take 40 minutes to bake completely, but it was worth the wait! I served it with vanilla ice cream and it was absolutely wonderful! thanks for posting this recipe

Chocolate Shavings said...

elayyouaray: I'm so glad you liked it! Depending on the size of the ramekin you use, it can cook a little longer, so you really have to check on it before serving it!

Coconut oil sounds like a great substitution - did it add any subtle flavors to the chocolate and pear?

peasepudding said...

I think we al have stories of nasty burns whether done at home, work or college. I did a really silly one two weeks ago, it was a warm day and I had a tshirt on that had shrunk in the wash. When I took the cake out of the oven and placed it on top of the stove I leant against it, now I have a burnt stripe across my tummy just in time for summer bikinis!

The pear and chocolate are a wonderful combination and you photo is fabulous.

Kasey said...

Your presentation is GORGEOUS. Nothing like chocolate + pear--such an incredible combination.

tasteofbeirut said...

this dessert looks so good! can't wait to try it and eat it!

Liz@Cafe Liz said...

The pears look so cute sticking out of the little bowls. My favorite bakery makes something similar -- multiple pears arranged in little bars.

Melita said...

I feel like a kid at a candy store browsing your blog! :)
Gotta try this!

Kate said...

Your cakes look similar to my chocolate lava desserts but with a pear in the middle. They turned out superbly. Next time I might experiment with a dash of liqueur.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that looks good. I will try it this weekend on my man. Many blessings to you!

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