Last week we moved apartments, which is often a stressful and disorienting experience. While I tend to think of myself as someone who has few things, I was surprised to see how many boxes I needed to pack up all my belongings. I used several boxes for my baking supplies including baking sheets, cake tins, mixing bowls and cookie cutters. However, I also had a few boxes of food and noticed that a number of items had been with me since my last move! I resolved to creatively use these ingredients as soon as possible.
Among the items I’d had for a while were three different types of cocoa and a large can of pears. The juxtaposition of these items in my pantry triggered the memory of a delicious pear and chocolate cake that my friend Francesca recently baked for a dinner party. I decided to create a recipe inspired by that combination, but in a lighter and less rich form.
In North America, pears are an under-used and under-appreciated fruit. Apples have Biblical significance, oranges have a color named after them, and bananas are a phallic symbol. What about the humble pear? Each of these common fruits are also associated with a popular food item – apple pie, orange juice and banana bread. No such dish comes to mind when someone mentions pears.
Pears have been cultivated for about 3000 years and were common in ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese cuisines. Today, China produces more than half of all the pears grown in the world. Despite the advocacy of the U.S.-based Pear Bureau, North Americans consume far fewer pears than their European counterparts. Pears are especially common in French cuisine and are used in tarts, cakes, jams and pastries. They are also served in salads and sauces, as an accompaniment to cheese, and poached for dessert. In addition, the French, Irish, British and Swedish make a pear cider known as Perry.
In this recipe, pears provide a moist and sweet complement to an airy chocolate sponge cake.
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 29-ounce can pear halves
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons milk or soymilk
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment or wax paper.
2. In a small bowl mix flour, cocoa and baking powder. Set aside.
3. Open and drain a can of pears. Slice each pear half lengthwise into quarters. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat between each addition. Add vanilla and mix well.
5. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Add milk and mix well. Then add the remaining flour mixture and beat to produce a smooth batter.
6. Pour batter into springform pan and use a spatula to level the surface. Arrange pear slices in a fan with tapered ends in the middle of the cake.
7. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. This cake is best served one or two days old so cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container or under a cake dome overnight. Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla (or coconut) ice cream.