It was quiet in my apartment this afternoon, and the light was sinking away, lingering so slow and lovely in its strange blueish state. Sitting at the dining room table, I hovered in between what felt like a million errands and the hour at which I should think about dinner, since this was the day of the week in which I had time to linger in the kitchen (though in the end, we ate fried eggs and a big salad instead). Tranquility was mine, if only momentarily. There were a few more tasks to be accomplished, but not yet. Despite the piles of paper on the table in front of me and the amount of effort I was (am) exercising to keep myself from thinking about the enormous, California-sized spider we found in the cupboard last night, I felt calm. I somehow missed the rains today, slipping in from my early morning run as the small drops began smacking against the ground with greater fury, and though warnings of a big storm continue, our sky remained blue and dotted with puffy white and gray clouds all afternoon long.
There are a million things a girl could talk about right now — from what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers (we had none to speak of because we were at a potluck, but if I had a pile of stuffing to spare, I would definitely be baking an egg in it!) to gift guides and cookie recipes and general Christmastime enthusiasm. I hear talk of sparkly tights and the sweet scent of pine needles, and I cannot wait to make a bowl of dazzling cranberries and some sort of gingerbread (I have my eye on this one).
But you see the plethora of links above; those folks did all of that so well in these last few days. And for now, I am enjoying the quiet. I don’t want this part of the season — early, not yet chaotic, full of anticipation — to go too fast. Now, trust me: I can muster more Christmas spirit than many small children, I have broken out the Christmas music (even before Thanksgiving, if you must know the truth), we’ve bought a few gifts and I’m already dreaming of seeing family and friends back in Michigan (and crossing my fingers for SNOW). But while in my head I think quietly of cookies and the holiday party we want to throw and which homemade treats will make the best gifts, I want to give you one last recipe unrelated to Thanksgiving or Christmas or the dawn of 2013 or the resolutions that will follow.
This is for the season we are in just exactly now: right between the holidays, anticipation softly building, pears lingering for perhaps only a few days more. I suggest you grab a couple of those beauties at the market before they’re gone — and there is no room in your mind for anything but frosted sugar cookies and small plates for parties and holiday craft markets and twinkle lights on evergreens — and make this cake. It just might bring you a bit of calm and quiet, too.
Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
Adapted from Al Di La Restaurant in Brooklyn via Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen
I have wanted to share this recipe with you for some time. It resides in the Smitten Kitchen archives, posted several years ago. But it is so delicious that it must be highlighted once again. Fruit and chocolate are always a divine combination, but especially so in this cake. People rave about this one, perhaps me loudest of all.
In the recipe below, I’ve linked to great instructions (with photographs!) for browning butter, as I don’t consider myself an expert at explaining how to accomplish this feat. Check them out if you’ve not done this before!
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
3 pears, peeled and diced (a softer variety, such as Bosc, is best)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, dust with flour and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. This will take about 9 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, brown the butter (additional photos/instruction found here). This will take several minutes. The butter is finished when it is a deep golden color and smells nutty. Remove the pan from the heat, but keep it in a warm spot.
Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
Just as the mixture begins to lose volume, turn the mixer down to low speed/stir. If you are using a hand mixer, you might find, as I do, that the mixture gets too thick as you move into these next steps. If so, switch to a wire whisk and a bit of muscle, and then a spatula when that stops working as well. Take care not to over-whisk or over-fold the batter, or it will lose volume.
Mixing between each addition, add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the browned butter. Add the next third of the flour, the remaining butter and the rest of the flour. Whisk until just barely combined, then use a spatula (if you’re not already doing so) to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It will be very silky.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top (it will be thickly covered, but don’t fret — some of the pieces will sink down into the cake). Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, tent it with foil.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This is lovely with whipped cream, Greek yogurt or ice cream alongside.
Yield: 8 – 10 servings