Spiced Chocolate Caramel Pear Cake
I can’t say Texas has the most idyllic seasons – you’d be hard pressed to find someone venturing down here to witness the effects of fall – but to me I can read the days like a book. Each small change, no matter how subtle or nuanced, reminds me of a quarter century worth of autumns I’ve spend in Texas. And the days – days seemingly teasing and tantalizing – leading up to one of the most cozy seasons Texas can offer each hold their own surprises and wonderment the days before somehow hid.
While my city lacks the contagious yellow, red, orange and brown hues that float from one patch of forrest to another, and though few of us are bundling up in sweaters just yet, it’s still fall. Mornings are just a bit more brisk than usual. The early hours of each day seem to hold on to the damp, chilly fog a bit longer and the distant sounds of a city winding down get quieter and quieter. Soon the racket of near by lawn equipment, early morning swim meets, mid afternoon joggers and the general hustle of traffic and people from one corner of town to the next will disappear.
And the birds. Like springtime, fall in this Southern state becomes a cacophony of cluttered calls as passing birds begin to compete with year-long residents. I know it wont be long before the grackles swarm tediously manicured lawns like locusts on a corn field. They seem to come each year around the same time as Halloween decorations begin dotting homes and stores.
Soon the mild chill will be replaced with bone-ticking cold and still green leaves traded for bare branches. But before that happens there are months of apple pies, pear tarts, pumpkin cookies and other warm treats to look forward too. There are mugs of hot cocoa, cinnamon dusted everything and soups for weeks on end. And there’s caramel.
There will be contemplations of a ski-filled weekend, a snowy retreat, mornings spent hiding under layers of blankets. Fireplaces will roar, heaters will buzz and old coats will take their place front and center in the closet again. But not yet. For now there’s fall.
Pairing chocolate with pear is one of my favorite dessert combinations. The delicate sweetness of the pear seems to mellow the bold, rich flavors in the chocolate. This cake, as you probably have noticed, is also ver light in its use of frosting. The sweetness in the caramel and pears does more than enough to match the strong chocolate cake – more frosting and I fear this cake would become cloy. While this recipe has three different elements (four if you include the baked pears) each part is quite simple. In fact, everything can be done while the cake is baking or cooling, so this recipe doesn’t end up taking any extra time.
Chocolate Cake: Chocolate cake is one of those weird baked items that doesn’t really follow all the traditional rules. This recipe is my classic chocolate cake recipe and to tell you the truth, I don’t think you’ll ever find another recipe for chocolate cake on this blog, as this one is perfect. The only difference here is I’ve called for a little cinnamon to warm the cake up.
This recipe calls for baking the cakes in 6 x 2 inch round pans – giving you four layers or two small (but not too small) cakes. If you wish, you can keep the amounts the same in this recipe and instead bake it in two 8 x 3 inch round cake pans for a more traditionally sized cake.
- 8 ounces flour
- 1 pound sugar
- 3 ounces cocoa powder
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 eggs
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup freshly brewed coffee, hot
- 4 pears
- 4 ounces pecans
- 1 cup fortified caramel (recipe below)
- 2 cups spiced buttercream frosting (recipe below)
- Preheat an oven to 350°F. Prepare the cake pans by buttering the bottom and sides, lining the bottom with parchment paper and buttering the paper. Set aside.
- Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda & salt). Set aside.
- In another bowl, beat the eggs for about a minute until broken a part.
- Add the cream, sour cream and melted butter to the eggs. Mix until blended well.
- Pour the egg, cream and butter mixture into the dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix until the mixture is completely blended and homogeneous.
- Add the vanilla. Then add the hot coffee to the batter in small additions, mixing well after each addition. Mix in until the batter homogenous.
- If you are using four pans, evenly distribute the batter into the prepared cake pans. If you are using two, evenly distribute half of the batter between the two pans -
- you will need to repeat step 6 and 7 with the remaining half of the batter. The batter left to rest may not rise as much as the batter baked aright away.
- Place the cake pans on a baking sheet. Add the pears to the baking sheet. Bake everything in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out just barely clean (a few straggling crumbs is ok). The pears should be soft to the touch -
- they may need to bake longer than the cake.
- While the cakes are baking, prepare the fortified caramel and the buttercream frosting according to the instructions.
- Set both aside.
- Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting them.
- Place one layer on a cake stand or plate. Using a piping bag with a large circle tip pipe large circles of frosting around the top of the cake - so when you press the second layer on top it will give a daisy appearance. You may also use an icing spatula to spread the frosting on top. Place the second layer on top.
- Decorate each cake.
For a caramel drizzled top – Place a whole baked pear on top of the cake, in the center. Sprinkle pecans around the pear. Spoon the caramel over the pear and pecans, letting it pool and drizzle down the sides of the cake.
For a pear spiral top – Place a whole baked pear on top of the cake, in the center. Cut another baked pear into 1/4″ wedges. Arrange the wedges in a fanned spiral around the whole pear. Sprinkle pecans on top.
For a caramelized pear accent – Cut a baked or unbaked pear in half. Sprinkle sugar on top of the cut portion. Using a torch, or the broiler of your oven, caramelize the sugar like you would on a creme brulee. Let the sugar harden for about 30 seconds before working with the pear. This should only be done right before serving as the juices in the pear will cause the caramelized sugar to liquify after about 30 minutes.
Buttercream Frosting: This frosting is the typical, easy-breezy buttercream variety. You throw everything in a bowl and beat until it is creamy. It doesn’t get much easier than this. Here a little cinnamon and cardamom is added to give the frosting a bite.
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- 2 tbls cream
- Add all of the ingredients to the bowl. Beat until everything is combined and the frosting is light and frothy.
Fortified Caramel: Any caramel that has cream and butter added is called a fortified caramel. It is probably my favorite kitchen concoction as the creaminess and butteriness paired with the delightfully carmalized sugar is a match made in heaven.
Making fortified caramel is exactly like making classic caramel, but with fortified caramel you add cream and butter (and possible other flavorings) at the end. Be sure to stand at the stove and watch the boiling sugar closely. As soon as it reaches a golden amber – or caramel – color, remove it from the heat. Sugar can go from caramel to burnt blackjack in a matter of a minute and once caramel is over cooked it is ruined – you will have to start from scratch if that happens.
- 1 pound sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 1½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Add the sugar, water, lemon juice and corn syrup into the heavy-bottom pot and place over high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is homogeneous.
- Watching the thermometer and color carefully, boil the mixture until it becomes a golden amber color, or reaches about 325°F. This will take about 10 to 20 minutes. Do not stir during this time.
- Once the caramel has reached the appropriate color (careful not to let it continue cooking too long) remove from the heat. Carefully pour the cream into the pot while stirring vigorously.
- STAND BACK as you do this as the caramel and cream could pop and explode upwards.
- If the mixture is lumpy, place the caramel back over the heat, stirring constantly until the lumps have dissolved.
- Off of the heat add the butter and cinnamon. Stir until the butter is completely dissolved.
- Let the caramel cool.