Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brown Butter Cake with Pear and Chocolate

Once we age out of wearing pointy hats on our birthdays, most of us tend to not bake up cake for dessert. Cakes are for office parties or weddings. And even on those boredom-killing or celebratory occasions, we're hardly looking forward to them. They're either too cottony, or too cloying, or favoring tier-supporting structure over delicacy. It's little wonder we forgo the cake entirely, opting for plum-studded tarts, or fudgy flourless chocolate cookies, or ganache-covered macaroons instead.

But oh, this cake. This cake. Essentially, it's not much more than your basic genoise — whipped eggs and sugar, some flour and melted butter. But the butter is browned, giving it a surprisingly nutty depth. And then it gets a helping of autumnal pears and bittersweet chocolate. And it's perfect.

To be clear, this isn't your standard buttery birthday cake. It's a bit more complex and grown-up, rich with brown butter and chocolate, moist with pears, but still light and just slightly dry (which is where the whipped cream comes in). It's kind of amazing, especially in these pear-heavy days at the end of summer.

And in other news of the transformative power of a quality baked good, I recently had the good fortune to sit in on a challah-baking class, right before the Jewish new year. You can take a listen over at NPR. L'shana tova!

Brown Butter Cake with Pear and Chocolate

from Al Di La, via the Smitten Kitchen (do you know she has a cookbook coming out?)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, plus another spoonful or so for sweetening the whipped cream
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (go with pears that are just barely ripe — too soft and they'll sog up the cake)
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
1 cup cream

Preheat the oven to 350° Farenheit. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, dust with breadcrumbs or flour, and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

To brown the butter, place in a saucepan and melt over medium heat, cooking until the butter turns a light brown and smells nutty and delicious (about 5-7 minutes). Scrape the bottom of the pan towards the end of this time, so that it browns evenly without the solids burning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. You want to whip them for several minutes, beyond the usual foam, until it thickens and will sheet off the beaters in thick ribbons (more than 5 minutes).

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to the slowest stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter in batches. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined, then use a spatula to gently scrape and fold in the last of the batter (be careful not to over-mix — though this cake has a hefty amount of leavening, it still gets a lot of its loft from beaten eggs, so you don't want to deflate).

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top (they'll sink to the middle as the cake sets), and 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. Whip the cream with a bit of sugar, and serve together.


  1. Yeah, we definitely don't do much cake at our house--but I'd make an exception for a cakeful of fruit like this! :)

  2. Charlotte made me show her this picture over and over again. Off to scour the Mexican supermarkets for the ingredients! I just hope my version looks as delicious as yours does...

    1. Let me know how it turns out! I like the idea of a little autumnal Portland in the DF.