It was a pear named `belle Hélène`- beautiful Helena – that sparked my love for pears with chocolate. As a little kid just able to read, I discovered said dessert, Birne Helene as it´s called in German, on a restaurant menu, and asked my parents permission to order it though I had no idea what it actually was. And I had guessed right, that seducing name didn´t promise too much: Soon I indulged on a meltingly tender poached pear, hidden under a big airy cloud of Chantilly cream, swimming in a pool of smooth, dark chocolate sauce – a piece of heaven for a sweet toothed girl. Still, there´s no doubt for me that the combination of juicy pears with dark chocolate is simply a winner – c´est vraiment inratable, as the French say, you really can´t mess it up.
Pairing ripe pears with chocolate, that is also what this cake is all about. It falls somewhere between a brownie and a dense cake; “a crownie”, if you want, studded with tender chunks of juicy pears that delicately imbue the dark dough that surrounds them. The cinnamon flavored mascarpone pays tribute to the original Belle Hélène trio and makes it all melt together in a quite delicious way.
The recipe really works way best with ripe or overripe pears, those freckled ones that are no longer pretty, and whose thin skin will tear once you touch them just a tiny bit too roughly. Certainly those pears are beyond the “ten minutes in their lives when they are perfect to eat” (to loosely quote writer Ralph Waldo Emerson) – but that´s exactly when they´re perfect for baking.
Pear & chocolat “crownie” aka Belle Hélène cake (enough for one 8 inch tart pan):
for the dough:
185 g flour
30 g almonds
30 g dark cocoa powder
100 g confectioner´s sugar
125 g salted butter
2 egg yolks
2 juicy, very ripe pears
a dash of ground cinnamon
for the topping:
150 g mascarpone
150 g full fat cream
4 tbsp confectioner´s sugar
a good dash of ground cinnamon
a few drops vanilla essence
baking time: about 30 minutes at 175°C/350°F
In a bowl, mix together flour, almonds, cocoa powder, confectioner´s sugar, cubed salted butter, egg yolks and egg. You will obtain a firm, dense dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Peel two pears and cut them into chunks. Sprinkle with cinnamon and set aside.
Butter an 8 inch (20 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom. Line with the dough, using a bit of cocoa powder to avoid it from sticking. Arrange pear chunks all over, pressing them into the dough with your fingers (they don´t have to be all drowned). Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until a test knife inserted in the center comes out clean (a little shorter if you prefer a slightly under baked center, which works fine here).
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
For the topping, whip up mascarpone and cream with the cinnamon, confectioner´s sugar and vanilla.
Using a pastry bag or ziplock bag (from which you cut off one corner) fitted with a star shaped nozzle, pipe little rosettes onto the cooled cake.
Can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days – I find this cake best the second day.