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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's All About the Pastry

Sorry for the lag in updates; I just spent the last few days either not doing school work or immersing myself in Relay for Life. The former entailed an epic night of karaoking, hitting the gym, interning, and raving on Valentine's Day [I'm still recovering from that, by the way]. The latter consisted of bonding with my committee, late night meetings with my awesome co-event chairs, and baking four cakes for the Ace of Cakes club competition this Friday [trust me, that definitely counts at work; try to imagine the state of my kitchen post cake-baking].

Either way, school is a faraway thought, yet I am not as stressed as I should be. Perhaps a good dose of midterms will clear that up for me in a couple weeks, but until then, it's all about the pastry.

In one of my weekly bake sessions with my friend SW [pseudonym, obviously], I decided to forgo the usual uber-healthy dessert with something that burst with flavour: a brown-butter chocolate pear cake.

Take a minute to let that settle in.

If you have never made brown butter before, don't trip chocolate chip! It is much easier than you may believe. I use the technique I learned at my internship: Place butter in a saucepan and set over medium heat until melted. Continue to cook until butter is brown and extremely fragrant, stirring occasionally to scrape the solids off the bottom. In about ten minutes, you are done and your butter is ready to go.

The original recipe is on Smitten Kitchen. To make it my own, I used whole-wheat flour and added some sesame seeds to compliment the brown butter and add another layer of nuttiness. I used regular chocolate chips, but next time I would probably use dark chocolate chunks; there's just something about dark chocolate that can't be beat.

I have a slew of new goodies that are calling for blog posts, so stay tuned for the next few days! I hope to document the competing cake as well, but that depends on whether or not I can successfully work with fondant or not...

Brown Butter Pear-Chocolate Cake

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used anjou, but would recommend a softer variety, like a bosc or any other of your favorites)
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour; set aside.

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

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

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

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. 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 — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes or a tester comes out clean.

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