Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake

November 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, simple cakes, sweet things | 9 Comments
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upside-down pear chocolate cake

When did weekends become all about errands and housekeeping?  This weekend, in addition to the usual vacuuming, laundry and trips to the market and bank, I did some grout touch-ups to the bathroom (how do I even know how to do that??), removed and cleaned up the couple of A/C units we still had dangling out the windows and did a rather ghetto weatherproofing job to the hatch that leads from our backyard into the basement (it involved a blue tarp and some bricks).  Carving out a little baking time on the weekends is a must.  For me, even though there are always dishes to wash afterward, it’s pure fun.

While I’ve never been one for most fruit and chocolate combos, I can do pears and chocolate together…Poire Belle Hélène is good stuff, afterall.  While I was flipping through the very sweet little book Rustic Fruit Desserts, this recipe for Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake caught my eye as a good and unusual way to use up the last of my CSA pears.  Making an upside-down cake is always exciting.  There’s the big revel– what’s going to happen when you turn it out of the pan??  Here’s what I got with this one: a perfectly moist and caramel-soaked chocolate cake with pears that turned a translucent, shimmering gold.  I must say though, that just from tasting the raw cake batter, I knew we were in for a treat.  I love the way the pears glisten in the light…this one might show up again for Christmas dinner.

upside-down pear chocolate cake

Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake- makes a 9-inch cake
adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson

Steph’s Note:  Regarding the caramel for the fruit topping– if you have another method of making caramel that you prefer (a dry caramel, for example), feel free to use it here, keeping the amount of sugar the same.  This one worked perfectly for me, but do what you are comfortable with.

for the fruit topping:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (4 oz) water
3 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, and each cut into  12 slices (1 pound prepped)

for the cake:
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa  powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

-Preheat the oven to 350° F and butter a 9-inch round cake pan (preferably not a springform one).

-To make the fruit topping, put the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan (one with a tight-fitting lid) and stir until the sugar  dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then cover and cook for  2 minutes. (Covering in this way allows the steam to wash down the sides of pan,  which will prevent any sugar crystals from forming.) Uncover the saucepan and  continue to boil the sugar, gently and slowly swirling the pan as needed to cook  the caramel evenly, until it becomes a dark amber color. Occasionally wash down  the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, if necessary. Carefully pour  the caramel into the prepared pan and allow it to harden. The pan will be very  hot from the sugar, so take care in moving it if you need to. Fan the pear  slices on top of the caramel in a circle around the perimeter, filling in the  center with the remaining slices.

-To make the cake, place  the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring  occasionally. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.  Transfer the melted chocolate to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and  add the sugar. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the  paddle attachment, beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and  fluffy. Add the eggs one at time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each  addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions  alternating with the milk in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour  and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

-Tip the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to move it to the edges and cover the fruit. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until  the cake bounces back slightly when touched. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife or small offset around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a plate, leaving the pan on top of the cake for 5 minutes before you remove it.  If any pear slices stick to the pan, just lift them out and place them on top of the cake.  Serve the cake warm or room temperature.

-Wrapped in plastic wrap, this cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Ginger-Jazzed Brownies

October 18, 2011 at 12:01 am | Posted in cookies & bars, groups, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 9 Comments
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ginger-jazzed brownies

Chocolate and ginger together?  Yes, please!  This is a combo I like a lot when the weather gets cool, and it makes for a brownie with some heat.  The mixing method was kind of unusual for brownies– creaming rather than melting the butter– and my Ginger-Jazzed Brownies were more on the cakey side than the fudgy side (but not fluffy cake, like this delicious chocolate gingerbread).  Perhaps that’s because while I made a half recipe, I used two eggs instead of the 1.5 I technically should have.  Or maybe it’s because instead of the corn syrup called for (for chewiness, I guess?), I used golden syrup, but I usually make this swap and it doesn’t seem to affect other recipes.  Or maybe that’s just how they’re supposed to be…I’m curious to see results from the other TWDers to compare.  With ground and grated fresh ginger, these were good, and even better with a little frosting and candied ginger bling.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Bubie’s Little Baker.  Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

Tuesdays with Dorie: Salt and Pepper Cocoa Shortbreads

September 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Posted in cookies & bars, groups, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 8 Comments
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salt and pepper cocoa shortbreads

Chocolate shortbread with a little hit of salt and pepper?  Sounds exotic, but the s&p doesn’t overpower (even though I added 50% more of each than the recipe called for).  It just gives the slightest tickle on your tongue.  I used a little of my precious Aussie pink salt here…love that stuff.  After I baked off what you see here, I put the other half of my dough log into my freezer cookie stash.  I’ve built a good selection in there at this point, and while I must admit that this one may not bring about world peace, it’ll be a nice addition to that massive cookie platter I’ll one day make from all the leftover dough hunks.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Buttercream Barbie, as it was Tia’s turn to pick again.  Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

Tuesdays with Dorie: Classic Brownies

September 13, 2011 at 12:01 am | Posted in cookies & bars, groups, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 15 Comments
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classic brownies

I have made lots o’ brownies with TWD (I think there are even still a couple more versions to go), but this is Dorie’s classic…no honey, no cheesecake, no Peppermint Patties…just straight-up chocolate and walnuts.   This is a solid brownie, in both the solidly-good sense, and the fudgy-but-not-raw-in-the-middle sense.  It’s the one to take to a bake sale, the one to put in a lunchbox, the one that will please everyone (unless they don’t like nuts, but then you just leave them out!).

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Anne Strawberry.  Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

Lora Brody’s Chocolate Cherry Torte

April 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, sweet things | 9 Comments
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lora brody's chocolate cherry torte

I know that it’s technically spring, but the weather here seems to have missed the memo.  I was hoping that the light snow called for in this morning’s forecast was just an April fool’s joke, but, alas, it was for real.  Rhubarb and ramps have gotta be just around the corner, though, so I’m going to take these (hopefully) final chilly days to squeeze in some of the heavier desserts I won’t be in the mood for soon.  Things like this dense, rich Chocolate-Cherry Torte.

I think this was my husband’s dream cake….chocolate, almonds and cherries…all his favorite things together in one.  I loved the fudgy texture of the cake itself, and, of course, the chocolate ganache glaze.  The thin layer of marzipan in between the cake and glaze was a nice flavor touch.  This isn’t a difficult cake (in fact, you can make the batter in the food processor), but there are a few steps from start to finish.  A fun project for a chilly day spent inside!

lora brody's chocolate cherry torte

Lora Brody’s Chocolate Cherry Torte- makes 8 to 12 servings
adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

Steph’s Note:  You can use semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, depending on how sweet you’d like the cake to be.  I found jarred Morello cherries at Trader Joe’s.  I used marzipan in lieu of almond paste here.

for the cake:
3 T finely ground fresh bread crumbs
one 24 oz jar pitted Morello or sour cherries
6 oz dark chocolate
12 T softened unsalted butter, plus some for greasing pan
2/3 c granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 c ground almonds
2/3 c flour

2 T confectioner’s sugar
8 oz almond paste (or marzipan)

for the glaze:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. instant espresso powder
8 oz. dark chocolate

-Preheat oven to 350°F; put rack in center of oven.  Butter a 9″ or 10″ springform pan.  Add the breadcrumbs and shake pan to coat bottom and sides.  Shake out the excess.  Drain cherries well and set aside.

-Melt chocolate in double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally.

-Put the butter and sugar into a mixer or food processor and blend until light and creamy. Add one egg and mix well.  Then add second egg and mix well.  Add the extracts. Add the melted chocolate and mix gently or process in a few quick pulses.  Mix in the almonds and the flour, and finally, the remaining egg.

-Pour and scrape the batter into prepared pan. Smooth top with a spatula.  Arrange cherries in close concentric circles on top (the entire surface should be covered) and press them gently into batter so just the tops are showing. If the surface is uneven, smooth it out with a wet spatula.  There may be a few cherries leftover.

-Bake for 50 minutes to one hour. Don’t overbake. The cake may look dry on top, but will be moist inside. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

-Put a length of waxed paper on flat surface and sprinkle with confectioner’s’ sugar.  Work the almond paste into a flat round and turn it in the sugar. Cover with the second sheet of waxed paper and roll out into a circle the diameter of the cake.  It should be quite thin (about 1/16th”). Take off top layer of waxed paper.

-Using the cake pan as a guide, cut out a circle that will fit the top of the cake exactly.  Save extra pieces to patch any torn part or use for decorations. Cover the cake with the almond-paste round.

-To make the glaze, bring cream and coffee to a slow boil in heavy sauce pan.  Take it off the heat and add the chocolate; stir gently until the chocolate is melted with no lumps (you can strain it if lumpy). Let the glaze cool briefly, until spreadable.  Thin it with 1-2 t hot water if it’s too thick.

-Place cake on a rack over a sheet of waxed paper to catch drippings. Pour a thin layer chocolate glaze over the cake spreading it with a spatula. It should cover the top and sides of cake. Chill the cake briefly and and a second coat.  Decorate if you wish (you can make roses or cut-outs from any almond paste scraps).

-This cake will keep unrefrigerated in a cool place for 2 days. It can be refrigerated, but the glaze will lose shine.

Please note that the publisher, W.W. Norton, sent me a copy of this book…but I would have bought it anyway!

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

March 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Posted in bundt cakes, cakes & tortes, simple cakes, sweet things | 9 Comments
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whiskey-soaked dark chocolate bundt cake

I’m not an Irish girl (although with my reddish hair and fair skin, you can’t imagine how often I’m asked), but I’m still up for celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day.  I’m long done with the overcrowed pub thing though, so this year I’m going to get my booze on with Melissa Clarke’s Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt instead.  It is loaded with a whole cup of whiskey, Jameson Irish in this case, and if you like this sort of thing, it is amazingly good.  The crumb is tight and not fluffy, but instead of being a dense chocolate cake, the texture is soft as velvet.

If you read through the recipe, you’ll notice that the cake isn’t meant to be frosted.  It truly doesn’t need it, but my cake needed it.  You see, I decided to ignore the direction to flour my Bundt pan.  Usually a good spray is all I need to get a clean release, but when I went to turn this cake out the entire outer layer stuck to the pan.  Crappola.  I patched back what I could (and ate what I couldn’t!), and then whipped up a quick gancahe to spackle and hide my goof.  I think I did a good job with the reconstructive surgery– I can barely tell. 

Bottoms up!

whiskey-soaked dark chocolate bundt cake

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake- makes 10 to 12 servings
adapted from Melissa Clark’s fabulous book  In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting pan
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon, rye or other whiskey, more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)

 -Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans). Preheat oven to 325° F. In microwave oven or double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.

-Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt; let cool.

-Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

-On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will take less time, start checking them after 55 minutes).

-Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey. Let cool before serving, garnished with confectioners’ sugar if you like.

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