Chocolate Pear Cake

Another beauty from Piero Polloni, whose tomato sauce and gazpacho recipes I shared with you on Tuesday.

This is rich and bittersweet and textural heaven. I especially love the crust, which starts out very soft, like a butter cookie dough. It’s made with “00″ flour, a finely milled Italian flour typically used for pizza and pasta doughs, which makes for a very tender crust. If you can’t find it, use unbleached all-purpose flour.

Piero’s recipe calls for Abate Fetel pears, a favorite in Italy. They’re tall, yellow and russet, white-fleshed, juicy and sweet, in season late August through early September. I used Forelle pears for mine: they’re firm-fleshed, sweet, excellent for cooking, and have an alluringly scarlet-freckled countenance.

Chocolate Pear Cake
Serves 8-10.
For pastry crust:
10 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg plus one yolk
1 1/3 cups “00″ flour
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
Pinch of salt
For pear and ganache filling:
5 ripe firm-fleshed pears, peeled, cored, each cut lengthwise into 8 slices
1 cinnamon stick
4 oz. best-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 oz. rum

To a large bowl, add the pastry ingredients in the order in which they are listed above, and mix well with your hands to form a soft dough. Press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least two hours. (Piero notes here that “Grandma would say 24!” I made Grandma happy and chilled mine overnight. It softens again very quickly.)

Preheat your oven to 350°, with a rack in the middle position.

Add a cinnamon stick to 3 quarts water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Carefully slip in the pear slices and cook for three minutes. Drain the pears thoroughly, discarding the cinnamon stick, and set aside to cool.

In a double-boiler or a metal bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, cream, and rum, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Press the dough as evenly as possible into the bottom and up the sides of a cake mould; a loose-bottomed tart pan works well. (I used a 10-inch tart pan, but you could go with a little more depth and smaller diameter.)

Arrange the pears on the dough, and pour on your ganache. Place the cake pan on a baking sheet, and slip into the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Let the cake cool completely in its pan on a wire rack. The ganache will set as it cools. For a firmer set, tent with foil and refrigerate after the cake has come to room temperature.

Chocolate Sambuca Cookies

I don’t know what it is about Sambuca, the colorless anise and elderflower-flavored liqueur. The ancients believed anise to be an aphrodisiac, but I don’t set much store by such things. For me, a sip of Sambuca is something of an amorous madeleine, causing scenes of love both chaste and profane (profane but profound) to unfold in memory. Of course, to have such a Proustian moment, one needs the original experience. Without risking further indiscretion, I’ll say only that I’ve made these cookies for my family at Christmas and for one or two very small, very successful dinner parties.