Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

Alex and I went to dinner with friends at Al Di La in Park Slope nearly two years ago. This funky, mom-and-pop Italian place is always packed but doesn’t accept reservations. There is no space to wait (unless you visit the wine bar next door). It’s helpful to know someone working there.

Alex looked at their menu before we left (does anybody remember when you had to go to a restaurant in person to see what they offered? There are probably fewer rabbits’ feet and tripe on the menu. We decided to order the torta de pere, which is a bittersweet pear and chocolate cake. “Fruit with chocolate?” I asked, “Why?” since I always believed the two were better separated.

As with all good teaching stories, we tried it and licked the plates. Then, over the next year-and-a-half (until my friend Anna gave in), I begged her, one of the pastry chefs at the restaurant, for the recipes because I had no tact. Perhaps the bittersweet pear and chocolate cake was just that good. Did I mention that it contains browned Butter? It was obvious that good manners were put on hold.

Nomination! The Well-Fed Network nominated Smitten Kitchen as one of the best food blogs. (Aw, although those who send me grammatical corrections daily may disagree!) The Well-Fed Network. Thank you for your support!

The eggs are the most exciting part of this recipe. They’re beaten beyond “combined” and “fluffy” until they reach the shiny, velvety custard volume. If you own an electric mixer, now is the perfect time to use one. This set is not one to be skimped on.

As I made it, I was a little confused by putting the chocolate and pear pieces inside the cake. I recalled them being there. The cake then rises in the oven, tucking them into the fold, and it’s a delicious, glorious thing.

1 cup all-purpose flour
Baking powder, one tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Three eggs at room temperature
Unsalted Butter, 4 oz (1 stick).
1/4 cup sugar
Three pears, peeled and diced (I used anjou, but I would recommend using a softer variety like bosc or any of your favorite types)
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate pieces

Preheat the oven to 350degF. Butter a springform pan 9 inches in diameter and dust it with breadcrumbs. (I used flour and cheated). Set aside.

Set aside the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Whip the eggs at high speed with a mixer equipped with the whisk attachment until they are pale and thick. It takes five minutes on a professional Kitchen Aid and nine minutes for a home machine to achieve the required volume.

Brown the Butter while the eggs are whipping. Melt Butter in a medium pan (it will foam) and cook until it browns (about 6-8 minutes). In the last few minutes, scraping off the solids from the bottom of your pan is helpful to ensure an even browning. Keep the pan in a warm place after removing it from the flame.

Add sugar to the eggs, and continue whipping for a few more minutes.

As the egg and sugar mixture begins to lose volume, turn it down and stir. Add the flour mixture, brown Butter, and the remaining Butter. Add one-third of the flour and sugar mixture, followed by half the Butter. Then add a third flour, the remaining Butter, and the remainder of the flour. The flour should be whisked until barely combined, no longer than one minute after the first addition. Use a spatula and gently fold in the batter to combine the ingredients. The batter will lose volume if you over-whisk it or fold it.

Pour into pan. Sprinkle pear and choco chunks on top and bake for 40-50 minutes until the cake is golden and springs to the touch.

It was served with whipped cream with a little almond extract, but Anna at the restaurant does it with buttermilk, which I promise I will tell you the recipe too soon. (I am afraid to make it because I ate all the ice cream she gave me last time in three days.

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