The combination of pears and chocolate is a nostalgic one for me, as one of my mum’s signature puddings when I was growing up was a soft, liquid-centred chocolate cake with tinned pears set inside it. It’s a happy marriage, and one I am only too happy to re-interpret and recreate in Italy.
I feel that everybody should have one flourless chocolate cake recipe up their sleeve; the Little Black Dress of the cake world. Based (very loosely) on a Torta Caprese, a classic chocolate cake from Capri, this is the one I have, which has a lovely depth thanks to the brown sugar, and feels a little autumnal, thanks to the pears and hazelnuts. As this is essentially a baked chocolate mousse, the texture inside is damp and fudgy, and it is much lighter in the eating that it perhaps looks.
You can add the pear pieces raw if you are short on time, but they are nicer (and more reminiscent of the tinned pears my mum used) when poached first, as they become more giving in texture and their flavour is intensified.
Makes 1 x 9 inch cake
2 medium-sized pears, peeled, cored & sliced into 8ths
3 tbsp sugar
150g dark chocolate
150g butter, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt
130g brown sugar (demerara or light muscovado)
100g hazelnuts, roasted and ground to a fine flour
4 eggs, separated
Place the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the pear pieces and poach for about 10 minutes over a low heat until soft and tender. Remove the pear pieces and allow to drain and cool.
Preheat the oven to 170. Roast the hazelnuts for 9 minutes until golden and then blitz them into a fine rubble (you can use a pestle and mortar or a rolling pin and a plastic bag if you don’t have a blender).
Melt the chocolate, butter and salt in a bain-marie. Once completely melted, set aside to cool for a minute or two.
Stir the egg yolks gently into the chocolate mixture until incorporated.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the brown sugar to form soft, shiny peaks (they will look creamy and shiny when they are ready, and be the consistency of softly whipped cream).
Stir the ground hazelnuts gently into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the egg whites.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and decorate with the poached pear slices. Bake for around 30-35 minutes, until just set in the middle.
Allow to cool before serving, with a dollop of mascarpone or some pouring cream.
Photo by Charlotte Bland, recipe from Dolce.