Chocolate-Studded Pear Cake: My Annual Pear Harvest Began With Cows, Lots of Cows, and a Fruit Tree
Last week, our friend Richard called to say that it was time to pick pears. As I drove to his house, I remembered the first time I had seen pears on that tree. It was nearly 16 years ago, just after we had moved from Washington D.C., leaving behind townhouses, taxicabs and sirens, to come to live in rural in Vermont with farmhouses, tractors, cows and of course pear trees.
For the most part, adjusting to the changes was easy. I loved seeing mist rising on the river, wildflowers at the roadside and blue skies with white fluffy clouds. I wasn’t so comfortable when a snake appeared when I was mowing the grass or when a troop of turkeys wandered by. Luckily, those creatures were as timid as I was. Cows were another matter. I liked seeing them in the pastures; I marvel at their beauty but I’ve always had a fence between us — until the first time I saw Richard’s pear tree. As I approached his house, I had to stop for a herd of cows. The cows were not in the meadow, they were in the middle of the road, and in no time at all, I was in the middle of the cows.
What to do? I sat in my car, with the windows closed and, after a minute or two, all of the cows, except for one lovely Jersey, walked slowly up the road, away from me and toward the barn. The remaining cow turned, looked back at me, batted her glorious eyelashes and headed for the pear tree growing in the center of the garden in front of a large house. She downed at least a dozen pears and then her herding instinct overwhelmed her desire for pears and she hustled off. I followed the cows at a safe distance, until all of the wanderers had reunited with the rest of the herd. When I was certain that the cows had no interest in me, I knocked on the front door of the house and told the woman who opened the door that her cows were on the loose. She shrugged her shoulders, and said, “They’re not my cows but they like to stop by. I’ll call the farmer.”
A couple of years later, that woman, Nancy, and her husband Richard became our friends. I shared my story about the cow and the pear tree at our first meeting. Nancy explained that even though the cows still stopped by, I was welcome to share the bounty of the pear tree with them. Nancy died six years ago but each August, as summer winds down and Richard calls about the pears, I remember our first meeting.
The pears from Richard’s tree and a chunk of bittersweet Callebaut chocolate from the Coop inspired me to make a chocolate-studded pear cake to share with friends at a potluck supper. Here’s how I did it:
1 teaspoon butter & 1 Tablespoon flour for pan
2 Bosc pears, cut into small dice
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces, (1 stick), unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
I preheated the oven to 350 and buttered a 9-inch, spring form pan and dusted it with flour. I used a wire whisk to combine the flour, baking powder and kosher salt and set it aside.
To give the cake a rich, buttery flavor, I browned the butter by cooking it over medium heat for about seven minutes. I stirred the butter occasionally and took it off the heat when the milk solids in the butter had become lightly browned and the butter had a nutty scent.
I used a stand mixer with the whisk beater to whip the eggs at high speed. After about 10 minutes, the eggs were pale yellow and very thick. I added the sugar and continued beating for another minute, then used a spatula to quickly and gently fold in a third of the flour mixture, half of the browned butter, another third of the flour mixture, the rest of the butter and finally the remaining flour mixture.
I poured the batter into the buttered and floured pan and dotted it with the pear and chocolate pieces. After the cake had baked for 50 minutes, a toothpick poked into the center came out clean and the cake had begun to pull away from the side of the pan. I served it topped with cream. Heavy cream, in a glass bottle, from a local dairy, tastes better than cream that has been heated to make it ultra-pasteurized. The hand-cut shards of bittersweet Callebaut added a wonderful richness to this cake, but you can substitute three-quarters of a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips if you like.
Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.