Chocolate Almond Cake with Poached Pears
Pears poached in amaretto are a tasty dessert in their own right, but if you serve slices of the sweet poached fruit atop dark chocolate cake layered with mascarpone whipped cream, the result is truly magnificent.
- For the amaretto-poached pears:
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) amaretto
- 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2-inch (5-cm) strip lemon zest
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 Anjou pears, peeled, halved and cored
For the mascarpone whipped cream:
- 2/3 cup (5 oz./155 g) mascarpone cheese
- 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
For the cake:
- 3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing
- 2 cups (10 oz./315 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 6 oz. (185 g) semisweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) whole milk
- 3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 3 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g) sour cream
To make the amaretto-poached pears, in a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the amaretto, brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, and cinnamon stick and bring to a simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Add the pears and simmer, turning them over every 10 minutes if not completely submerged, until tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Let cool completely in the liquid, then remove from the liquid, reserving it if desired. Cut the pears lengthwise into slices about 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick or leave the halves whole. The pears can be refrigerated in the poaching liquid for up to 1 week; they will become more flavorful as they soak in the liquid.
To make the mascarpone whipped cream, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the mascarpone, cream and vanilla on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
To make the cake, preheat an oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease two 8-inch (20-cm) round cake pans, line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper, then grease the parchment. Dust with flour, then tap out any excess.
Combine the butter, chocolate and milk in a heatproof bowl and set over but not touching barely simmering water in a saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, both sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Whisk the sour cream into the chocolate mixture, then add to the flour mixture and whisk until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto the racks and let cool completely.
To assemble the cake, place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread half of the almond-mascarpone whipped cream evenly over the cake, then top with the other cake layer. Spread the remaining whipped cream, except for 1/4 cup (60 ml), evenly over the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread the reserved whipped cream in a very thin layer on the sides to create a “naked” cake effect. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes.
Arrange the pears on top of the cake. If desired, pour the poaching liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and drizzle over the top just before serving. Serves 12.
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Favorite Cakes (Weldon Owen, 2017)