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Double Chocolate And Pear Cakes

Double Chocolate And Pear Cakes

When I look out the window, it is hard to imagine that Fall officially starts tomorrow. We have two seasons here more or less, Warm and Hot. Christmas celebrated in a summer dress, well, "it ain’t fittin'. It jes' ain’t fittin'" But there are signs that cannot be mistaken. Night falls earlier, the wind has finally picked up, the pecans are weighing the tree branches down. The light is now giving cold blue undertones, I put the diffuser back up in the studio, my shooting schedule has changed. Most importantly, the oven is buzzing with tarts, custards and cakes like these Double Chocolate And Pear Cakes, a gluten free adaptation of my mother’s recipe.

I like spontaneity as much as I like certain family rituals. One that my folks have back home is to get together for tea time everyday around four or five o’clock. Even now that my grandmother is gone, my mother makes the same one yard walk to my grandfather’s and continues the tradition. One of my fondest memories is always this moment shared around their dining room table right when it is getting darker outside and we cozy up around a slice of cake and a hot cup of tea and chat.

Getting Ready For Fall

As a kid, I’d sit quietly and listen to a mix of conversations ranging from politics and literature to the more basic questions of what to cook for the next family get together. As a teenager I started taking part by bringing treats of my own like madeleines and langues de chats. As an adult, every time I go home, I just sit quietly and listen, literally captivated by every word they say, every event or family member they talk about. I try to encapsulate those precious moments for the long strips of time I spent away from them.

Comes Fall when my "cozying-it-up" starts to kick in, I make this cake every weekend so that we can have tea and cake like they do back home. I have no idea where my mom got the original recipe, I just found several copies of it in different recipe tins around the house. I love it for the simple reason that you can make it your own with the flavor that you like. October might be cardamom and pistachios, November might give way to almond and vanilla while December might see some colorful candied fruits. Right now it’s pears and chocolate.

After successfully adapting a chocolate tart recipe earlier this month to a gluten version, I thought my favorite cake would be next to become gluten free. The cake was not difficult to adapt using different flours and eggs and butter are there to help ingredients bind and raise properly. I mean, it’s hard to mess things up when there are eggs and butter. I added cocoa powder and melted dark chocolate to the batter and topped each cake with slices of ripe pears. I knew the flours could lend a different, sandy texture to the finished cakes so I slightly underbaked them so they’d remain moist for a couple of days.

Double Chocolate And Pear Cakes

I purposely left out any kind of spice this time but I am thinking cardamom for the next cup of tea. I also want to try adapting this gorgeous Olive Oil Cake by Connie and these cute Nutella pound cakes by Dana. I can tell Fall is here…

Double Chocolate And Pear Cakes

Double Chocolate And Pear Cakes:

Makes five 3-inch cakes (I used these liners) or one loaf cake.

1 stick (113gr)unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
3 eggs
2 oz (60gr) semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup (60ml) buttermilk
1/3 cup (60gr) sweet rice flour
1/3 cup (60gr) sorghum flour (you could use amaranth or quinoa)
OR 1 cup (125gr) all purpose flour instead, if not going gluten free
3 tablespoons (15gr) cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 pear, ripe, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the center. Grease cupcake liners or a loaf pan and place them on a baking sheet. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, scarping the sides of the bowl in between each addition. Add the melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Add the buttermilk and beat, still on low, until incorporated. Add the flours, cocoa and baking powders and beat for 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat for a minute. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan(s) and place the slices of pears on top. Bake for 30-40 minutes for a loaf, 20-25 minutes for individual cakes. Check at the earliest baking time indicated as each oven runs differently and you want to keep the cake(s) moist inside.

Strawberry & Vanilla Floating Islands


It had been a while since I had the night off to bake something just for us. No book recipe to test, no challenge, no order or request. Just for us. In moments like this I tend to gravitate towards childhood memories and desserts I learned to make with my mother and grandmother. Simple desserts made so often that I bake them from memories with only the guidelines they used to whisper as I was standing on the little step stool next to the kitchen counter. It always amazes me how clearly I can still hear my grandmother’s voice every time I make Floating Islands for example.

Many years after her passing, Mamie Paulette is still here as I separate the eggs and mix them with sugar to make those lovely clouds of meringues. Everytime I cut through a vanilla bean I respectfully scrape every bean to the last one "pour ne pas gaspiller" (not to waste) and put the pods in small jars of sugar to flavor it. Whenever we would make creme brulees, we would have floating islands or "iles flottantes" a few days later. Again, "pour ne pas gaspiller". I seem to faithfully carry on the tradition. I measure my egg whites, double their weight in sugar (which you can use as a guideline to increase or decrease the number of servings) and make a Swiss meringue. Stirring as she would to, still fascinated at the magic a couple of ingredients can create once baked…

Making Floating Islands

After the vanilla bean mousse for the Daring Bakers challenge and the creme brulee tartelettes I had enough egg whites for a batch of macarons and some floating islands. The same week, juicy strawberry were on sale at the market and between my mother in law and us, I somehow ended up with about 5 pounds of them. I tried my best to use them but work got in the way and I decided to turn most of them into a coulis and freeze it in ice cube trays. That way I can easily portion out what I need for ice creams, sorbets, buttercreams, mousses later on. Some was used for the Floating Islands instead of the creme anglaise (vanilla custard sauce) they are traditionally served with. I hope mamie won’t scream "sacre bleu" since we are severe creme anglaise addicts in the family. I think she would have approved of the variation.

She would either bake the meringue in a baking dish in a water bath and scoop out portions for each of us or divide it in between several glasses and ramekins and bake invidual ones. I liked the latter best as my role once the meringues were baked was to invert them into the pool of sauce and I loved watching how they would just slide on down the glass and float around in the plates. I did the same thing here and decided to skip the traditional decoration of caramel sauce or caramel strands as I wanted to add a little touch of color to the glasses and used finely chopped pistachios instead. There was just not enough time in the day to let me play with caramel which I tend to get carried away with anyway…

The end result was just perfect after a full day at the office. The soft and delicate vanilla scented meringue contrasting with the energizing and fragrant strawberry coulis. Enough to make you want to put on your pajamas to take the dogs for a walk…

Strawberry & Vanilla Floating Islands

Strawberry & Vanilla Floating Islands Recipe:

Serves 4

For the strawberry coulis:
16 oz (500gr) strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 cup (50gr) sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, bring the strawberries with the sugar and lemon juice to a simmer over medium low heat. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and puree the mixture in a blender or food processor. Divide evenly between 4 dishes or glasses.

For the floating islands:
2 egg whites (60gr)
1/2 cup+1.5 tablespoons (120gr) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeded

Coat 4 ramekins of your choice with cooking spray, place them in a deep baking dish set on a baking tray, set aside.
Preheat the oven to 250F.
Place the egg whites, sugar and the seeds from the vanilla bean in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water and cook until the mixture registers 140F on a candy thermoter, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and whip the mixture with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until double in volume and cool to the touch. Pipe or spoon the meringue into the ramekins and fill the baking dish with hot water almost 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the meringues are slightly dry to the touch. Using tongs, remove the ramekins from the baking dish and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, invert them and let the meringue slide right off over the strawberry coulis.
Decorate with cut strawberries and chopped pistachios is desired.

Note: If you liked the White Chocolate and Lemon Souffles from last week, you can find 3 more recipes I made for Desserts Magazine. Bittersweet Chocolate Souffles, White Chocolate Souffles and Chesnut Milk Chocolate Tapioca Souffles. It’s all about chocolate this month!

Honey Raspberry Semifreddo And An Open Letter

Honey And Raspberry Semifreddo

Foreword: I have tossed and turned words for the past couple of days writing this post. I know this is a food blog, but over the past few years that I have written here, I have also shared with you the joys and sorrows of life. It has become more than just desserts since I come every week with stories out the wazoo, so I hope you will allow me to make this post about one person whom I lost and love and celebrate his memory. One person whose passing changed me radically in every thing I do and every way I see things. This is an open letter to my belated brother, one that I start and rewrite every year around the same time, one that will never end being re-written. I also thought about not posting at all, but one of our best memories shared was around dessert and it made sense to me to write it today. If this is not your cup of tea, skip to the recipe part.

Dear Thierry,
There are many dates forever engraved in my mind. The day you gave me a tiny white watch and a bright fuchsia scarf for my 10th birthday. The day I was looking at my parents' wedding pictures and saw you in one of them, standing right there with them and I turned to my mom and asked "if babies are made after you get married, how come Thierry is already there?" and found out that how we came to share only one parent. Dad was our common denominator. The same father who called me one August 18th, 8 years ago to tell me you were gone, forever. That date, I hate with every fiber of my being. I hated you even more for the wrenching pain you were causing him, how I wanted to punch you and hurt you the same. I know now that your circle of life was not ending, we keep it alive in everything we do. You and I have the same sensibility and a sensitivity that makes people uncomfortable when not prepared and sometimes makes some like us a little bit more, or at least that’s why B. says when I ask why he loves me.

Here is another date for you, that day in July when you met B. for the first time when he flew to visit for a couple of weeks. We had been dating just a couple of months and we met you at a cafe in Montmartre and shared a big plate of spaghetti. He spoke virtually no French and your English was just as bad and yet both of you started chatting away in your own made up language, hands and sounds included and I watched beaming. You told me that day that I was going to marry him and I added that I knew already but getting that same vibe from you reassured me that in spite of everything that separated us it would happen. You had never met this man and yet your generosity in showing him the kind of work you did was a big thing to do. Your work was your lifestyle and for a lot of people it was a rather bohemian one. Labeled as unreliable and different, I know it took a lot for you to just open up like that but you knew within a few hours spent with B. over lunch that he would never judge you or label you.

I remember B. getting antsy in his seat as if we were about to take him to some sort of secret society meeting, while we were trying to show him the beauty of the moment. "How many times are you going to share lunch with friends in a cafe in Montmartre if you live in SC, USA and work as a college professor?" Yep, my point. When the waiter came and asked us if we wanted dessert, B. said "I think I’ll pass, I am full" and we both looked at him like he was from another planet and exclaimed in the same voice "There is always room for dessert!!" and as soon as the waiter said the words "raspberry semifreddo" we replied "three please!" I had almost forgotten about that dessert until the other day when B. and I were talking about you and he said "didn’t we have creme brulee that day?". I was about to pop a few raspberries in my mouth and it all came back to me, not to mention that only dessert seem to stop us from talking!! So I stopped eating the raspberries that were in front of me and made semifreddo instead!!

So, and you will understand this, dear brother…I am stopping my letter here, adding it to the pile I have already written. As you often said it "why be sad when there is dessert?" and I know you were referring to the fact that I would always have to wrestle you and Arnaud for a piece of cake. Thank you for filling my days with sweet tears of the wonderdul times we’ve had, and hope you won’t get mad that I eat your semifreddo because really that would be waste to just stare at it and you hate waste (logic has never been our strong point)….right?!

Honey And Raspberry Semifreddo

There are as many semifreddo recipes are there cooks in this world, and the word itself refers more to a class of desserts more than just a particular one. Semi freddos are just that, semi frozen desserts not requiring an ice cream maker. The air comes and fluffly mouth feel comes from the amount of air you incorporate in your recipes, either with whipped cream, a "pate a bombe", an Italian or Swiss meringue. Here the dessert start with a pate a bombe base in which egg yolks are beaten with a sugar syrup and then whipped until airy and cooled. Whipped cream is also added here as a final touch of air before freezing. The honey gives more depth to the raspberry flavor and I advise you use a floral one such as wildflower, a stronger honey will be the dominant flavor, which is not what I was shooting for. For the decoration cookies, I made some tulip paste, filled a pastry bag with a small tip and piped squiggles on a silpat.

Honey And Raspberry Semifreddo

Serves 8

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons honey (I like wildflower the best)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 Tb water
3 large egg yolks
2 cups fresh raspberries

In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the whisk attachment or hand held one with ballon whisks, beat the cream until it just holds soft peaks. Chill while you prepare the base of the ice cream. Wash your bowl and whisk attachment.
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the honey, sugar, and the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Since you are not making caramel, it is ok to stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Let it boil and bring the mixture to 238°F on thermometer (soft-ball stage).

This second part is easier to do with a hand held mixer than a KA for example since the quantity of egg yolks is small and the bowl tends to be deep in some models. It works, have no fear…it’s just easier with a hand held one.
In the clean bowl of your mixer, still using the whisk attachment, beat the yolks until they are thick and pale. Reduce speed to medium and pour hot honey mixture in a steady stream into yolks. Go fast enough to prevent the eggs from scrambling but not so fast that you end up with most of the syrup on the wall of the bowl or the whisk. Continue to whip until the mass is completely cold and airy.

Fold about one third of the chilled whipped cream into the semifreddo base to loosen it up and make it easier to incorporate homogeneously. Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Add the raspberries and give the batter one last quick fold.
Divide mixture evenly among dishes or silicone molds, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until frozen.

Cookie Decorations: (base recipe which makes a lot but you can freeze it or refrigerate the dough and use as needed)

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature
4 ounces all purpose flour, sifted

Cream the butter and powdered sugar together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg whites and beat until just coming together. Add the flour to the butter mixture and mix until incorporated. Do not overmix. Use right away or store in the refrigerator, taking it out 30 minutes before you plan to use it. Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a small plain tip. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe away! Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Honey And Raspberry Semifreddo

So what did my brother do for a living that was this strange? I could simplify by telling you that he had a stall at the Clignancourt flea market in Paris but that would be so unfair to him. He was an artist, he made jewelry, earring, bracelets, brooches, necklaces, hair pieces, rings. He used all that was available, beads, metal, wood… He loved to work with miniatures anything and tiny everything (see a DNA trait here?!!). He had gifted hands and a never ending creativity, one I can only aspire to. He was also a gifted photographer. The best picture of B. and I is one he took that very same day we had lunch and I see it every morning I turn the alarm clock off. He liked odd places and odd angles to be, live and photograph. He truly lived to the beat of his own drum and he inspires me. Below are three of my favorite pictures he took ( sorry for the quality, they were scanned).