Sophisticated, seasonal and simple: I love this combination of fruit, chocolate and wine. The tawny pears turn garnet when poached in red wine, and the same red wine in the cake makes it glossy and just sweet enough. A sprinkle of confectioners sugar might be a pretty garnish, but the cake needs no thick frosting or rich whipped cream to make it a dessert for a wintery occasion.
In addition to the wine, olive oil is this cake’s other “secret” ingredient. It imparts more flavor than canola oil and gives the cake a light but moist texture. You can apply the same wisdom about cooking wine to olive oil: They needn’t be the best quality available, but they should each be good enough to stand alone; that is, to have a respectable perfume and flavor that you would enjoy by itself. You’ll want to use good-quality Dutch-processed cocoa, too.
The cake comes together quickly and keeps well, as do the pears. I used Bosc pears because they hold up well to cooking, but any firm pears will serve the recipe well. As an alternative, try dried pears or dried figs instead. You might add a few tablespoons of port to the wine about halfway through the poaching, as well.
Yield: 8-12 servings
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves
- 1 small chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
- 1/2 small cinnamon stick
- 3 to 4 Bosc pears, cored and sliced (peeling is optional)
- 1¾ cup flour
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup olive oil (or part canola oil)
- 1 tsp. vanilla
In a large sauce pan, heat wine, water and sugar to a simmer. Add spices, and cook until liquid reduces by about one-quarter. Add pears, and poach them, turning them gently, for about 15 minutes until softened. Allow pears to cool in wine.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, briefly beat together all wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir well.
Pour mixture into greased 9-by-13-inch pan or very deep 9- to 10-inch round cake pan. Bake for about 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool briefly before cutting.
Serve slices of cake plated with poached pears and a few spoonsful of syrup. You can strain the syrup if you prefer to remove the spices.