Bolzano Pear and Chocolate Cake

We have a plethora of pears, thanks to a considerate friend and her parents’ pear trees. (Thanks Becky!)

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What have we done with our pears a-plenty? We’ve eaten them out of hand, enjoyed them in salad, sauteed them to top our morning oatmeal, made them into soup, and baked them into a cake. Whew! It’s like we’re living “Iron Chef: Battle Pear.”

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Yet even after all of this not a dent was made in our pile o’ pears, so I happily made another pear cake. And another. And yet another. That’s right. 1 week. 4 pear cakes. 5 family members. 0 leftovers. That’s a lot of cake, especially for a family that doesn’t really like cake to begin with. Or so we thought.

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Then again, this isn’t your average cake. No fancy layers. No fussy fillings. No enormous piles of too-sweet icing. Not really much of anything but pears. Oh, and a bit of chocolate. As Chef Scott Carsberg says, “The cake is made of pears. I mean, the dough (actually more of a batter) is really only there as connective tissue binding the pears together. This cake is a wall of pear. Sweet pear bricks laid tightly one on top of the other. It comes to the table as a sugary rectangle. The top of the cake has caramelized into a crumbly topping. It’s not only sweet but add contrasting matte texture and yummy cake flavors to the stack of pears that make up the body. The body is super compressed. The texture of the cake is all spongy, buttery, fruity goodness.”

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Ok, really Carsberg said apple(s), not pears, because his cookbook is entitled All About Apples. Not All About Pears, mind you, ’cause where’s the alliteration in that? But, we have pears, so his Bolzano Apple Cake (from Italy) became Pear and Chocolate Cake (from Nashville). Lucky for us, pears and apples are cousins, so they are usually interchangeable when baking. I further tweaked the recipe by reducing the sugar, lowering the butter (a first for me!), upping the flour, adding a pinch of salt, swapping vanilla extract for the vanilla bean, and adding some bittersweet chocolate. The result? Chocolate, custard, and pears, oh my!

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you pears, make this cake. Even if that means you don’t know Becky and must (gasp!) buy pears because this is the best way yet we’ve found to make our pears go bye. They’ll be missed.

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Bolzano Pear and Chocolate Cake

makes 6-8 servings

inspired by Balzano Apple Cake in Scott Carsberg’s All About Apples and Becky’s pears

  • ¾ cup (3¾ ounces) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup (5¼ ounces) sugar
  • 5 firm but ripe pears
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup ( 4 ounces) whole milk
  • ½ cup (3 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
  • powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 9-inch square pan* with foil or parchment. Coat foil with nonstick spray or lightly grease and flour.

Combine flour, baking powder and pinch of salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Whisk eggs until foamy. Add vanilla and then slowly add half of sugar. Continue to whisk while slowly adding remaining sugar. Beat until thick; it should form a ribbon when dropped from a whisk.

Let batter rest while you peel, quarter, and core the pears. Slice thinly.

Slowly whisk melted and cooled butter into egg-sugar batter. Add about half of flour mixture, and when incorporated, add half of milk, then add remaining flour mixture, and end with milk. (The batter will be thin.) Fold in pears and chocolate, coating every piece with batter. You need just enough batter to bind the pears together – about a 2:1 ratio of pears to batter. Pour batter into pan, and gently even it out.

Bake for 80-90 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Cake should pull away from side of pan and be browned on top when done. A thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Cool on a wire rack (cake will slightly sink and shrink as it cools). Gently lift cake out of pan by holding onto the foil edges. Peel or trim off excess foil and then cut and generously sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Serve warm (our preference) or at room temperature, with or without a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. If you have any leftovers, store them uncovered at room temperature and enjoy for breakfast the next morning.

*A note about the pan size: This is one case where size doesn’t matter. You can use a 9-inch square pan or an 8-inch square pan for a slightly taller cake. Or if you prefer a round cake, use an 8- or 9-inch springform pan placed on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper (to catch any leaks and make for easy clean-up). Or halve the recipe and make it in a 7-inch springform. After making this 4 times in 4 different pans (and remembering how to calculate the area of a circle), I can attest that this cake works well in any of these pans. So, the choice is yours.

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