So right now there is a baby lying on my chest. Yep, you heard me right. On Thursdays I nanny for the cutest little guy that I’ve ever met. He’s sixteen months old and doesn’t have tantrums. Enough said. That’s right, I get to play mom for one glorious day, and then give the kid back to his real mom and go on with my life. Not a bad deal, huh?
The only problem (and it’s really only a problem sometimes) is that this guy is super cuddly. Normally I’m flattered, I mean, who’s going to refuse baby hugs? However, he takes a nap every afternoon, and he likes to sleep on my chest. And when I say “likes”, I really mean that he must sleep on my chest with his little fists cliniging to my shoulders, and his little head nestled in the nook right between my shoulder and collarbone. Now for the most part, this is great, I mean, it’s completely adorable. But it becomes a bit of a problem if, say, I have to go to the bathroom, or if, perhaps, I’ve become hungry and am starting to develop a major craving for the incredible chocolate cake I made the other day.
Who am I kidding? The overwhelming cuteness more than makes up for having to hold it, or, in today’s case, having to wait an extra couple of hours to get a piece of that cake. Oh, life is tough.
As much as I’d like to keep gushing about this baby (and I could, believe me) I’ll get back to the cake- eventually. The other night my friend Julia came over for dinner, which was less of a dinner and more of an over-ambitious and completely awesome dumpling party. We made three kinds of dumplings, all of which were delicious, none of which I took pictures of. Ah well. Maybe next time. I also made this cake. Unfortunately, by the time we had made and feasted on the dumplings, we were way too full to even think about dessert. So dutifully, we all shared a tiny sliver of the cake, taking about a half a forkful each. It was good. Very good. Delicious, even. But it was not the right time for cake. So the cake went back into the fridge to rest until another day when we would be less full and more ready for dessert.
The next morning I emerged from my dumpling coma hungry. I fully intended to have a responsible breakfast but, well, it was Saturday, and that cake was just sitting in the fridge. Just sitting! So yes, it became breakfast, and it was worth it.
I have to say, I was pretty excited about this cake. Lately I haven’t been the most adventurous (or the most prolific, for that matter) baker. I’ve been short on time and have been sticking to the tried and true recipes. But this time I felt like trying something new, and I’m glad I did. The cake is kind of a coming-together of three of my favorite things: Clotilde’s Melt in Your Mouth Chocolate Cake, pistachios, and pears. I made a half recipe of a variation of the chocolate cake, improvised on a pistachio frangipane, and added sliced pears, sprinkling them with cinnamon and sugar. It sounds pretty simple, and it was, but when baked together it became something more. The saltiness of the pistachios played perfectly against the dark chocolate, and the nuttiness gently permeated the rest of the cake. The pears added some necessary lightness to the otherwise rich dessert, and leant a subtle fruitiness to each bite.
As easy as this cake was, it looked and tasted pretty impressive, which is why I highly recommend that you make the next time you’re looking to get some oohs and ahs. I’m sure it would be adorable in the form of mini cakes, too. The bonus? It stores really well, and arguably tastes better on the second or even third day.
Pear Pistachio Frangipane Cake
Serves at least 8
For the Chocolate Cake:
- 1 stick minus 1/2 Tbsp butter
- 100g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate (use the best you can find)
- 1/2 Cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon of flour
For the pistachio frangipane:
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup ground pistachios (a slightly rounded ½ Cup unground)
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
For the pears:
- 2 pears (Bosc or Anjou are fine)
- A few teaspoons white sugar and some cinnamon
Pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper (I like to butter the pan, then butter the parchment paper).
In a mini food processor, grind the pistachios and the flour to a fine meal. Set aside. With an electric mixer (or, I imagine, even in the mini food processor), cream the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the ground pistachios (which already have the flour added) and beat until it forms a smooth paste. Transfer to a piping bag or a ziploc.
In a double boiler over just-simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter. Remove from the heat (you can transfer the chocolate-butter to a mixing bowl, but I prefer to keep it all in one bowl and just put the top half of the double boiler on a kitchen towel). Add in the sugar, stir with a wooden spoon and let cool a little. Add in the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition. Finally, sift in the flour, ginger, and cinnamon.
Pour the chocolate batter into the pan, tapping the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Snip a corner off the Ziploc bag holding the frangipane, and pipe a spiral over the chocolate cake, leaving a border of at least an inch. It’s OK if it’s not perfect! Peel the pears and then halve and core them. Slice the pears at a 45 degree angle towards the stem end, and then press to spread the slices slightly. Using a knife or a spatula, transfer the sliced pear halves to the top of the cake, arranging them as you like. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Put the cake into the oven to bake for 30 minutes, although you should check at about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off but leave the cake inside for another ten minutes, then put the pan on a cooling rack on the counter to cool completely.
You can store the cake in the fridge and serve chilled, although I prefer to let it come to room temperature before serving. Store the cake covered in the fridge for up to four days.