When I lived in Paris, there was a boulangerie two and a half blocks away from me, which I rarely got to, because I lived right on top of another boulangerie (Life was hard. If it helps, my room smelled like dead mice the day I moved in).
But my bakery (I liked to think of it as mine, even though the women who worked there never gave any sign they’d seen me before, even though I stopped by every other day for a year) closed on Tuesdays. So every Tuesday, if I needed half a baguette or a pain au chocolat, I’d have to head elsewhere. There were two I’d stop by; either Pain d’Epis on Avenue Bosquet, which was the best bet if I needed to go south-east, towards the Latin Quarter and class, or Jean Millet, if I felt like heading up to Seine and walking towards a friend’s place.
And at Jean Millet, there was a chocolate and pear cake which was pretty much the best thing ever. Cubes of sweet, subtle pear baked into spongy chocolate (and I know spongy doesn’t sound good, but trust me here).
Recently, I was trying to think of a good, exciting cake to make. Not a chocolate overload, which is my usual style, but something I’d be willing to share with other people. And something that might look pretty at the same time. So I went over to Smitten Kitchen, because I basically love/trust everything from over there.
While I’m not sure if the pretty part happened, as I was impatient – per usual – and took the cake out before it was fully ready, it was definitely good enough I almost decided not to share.
Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used anjou, but would recommend a softer variety, like a bosc or any other of your favorites)
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs, set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)
While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. 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). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and 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.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, 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.
I was very doubtful when I stuck this in an oven that the batter would somehow, miraculously, spring up and cover all the pear and chocolate pieces. It didn’t look like there was any room for that, not to mention I’d just stuck it in a pie tin instead of a proper cake one. But the cake did just that.
So then I flipped it over.
And then I ate it.