Smoked Caramel Pear Cakes

BW Fall Shoot (8 of 11) Untitled-1

If you haven’t read The Harvest Gathering yet, go do so. At least go look at the photos. And when you do, take notice of the ridiculous dessert I decided to make that day. Ridiculously rich and decadent and good, and also a bit ridiculously complicated.

I stumbled across the recipe when I was searching for pear-related dishes for the styled wedding shoot we did back in September, but ruled it out as too complicated at the time. However, as soon as I started planning for the next one, I again heard the siren song of smoked caramel. And this time, I relented.

It’s not a difficult process, there’s just a lot of steps. As I suppose there should be when creating something with such a deep, rich flavor. Great toil, great reward. These cakes are built on a chewy brownie base which supports a super moist sponge cake middle. The sponge is brushed with a smoked simple syrup and topped with a thick, luxurious smoked salted caramel, and sticky sweet candied walnuts. There’s Irish butter and flaky sea salt, and despite the “smoke” in their name, no actual fire is required. The smoky flavor comes from steeping Lapsong Souchong tea in both the syrup and caramel. Sneaky.

These cakes were a perfect escape from the mountains of moving boxes and piles of packing I had to do that weekend. I felt every bit the meticulous, perfectionist pastry chef as I poked, prodded and primped these little treats. Despite their high-maintenance assembly, the end result was well worth it. We oohed and ahhed as they came together at the end of the shoot. They photographed beautifully, and paired with a simple maple ice cream, tasted even better!

Smoked Caramel Pear Cakes
Author: [url href=””]Donal Skehan[/url]
Serves: 8
This recipe can be converted, but I actually prefer to use grams when baking. Get yourself a scale!
  • [b]For the chocolate bases:[/b]
  • 155g dark chocolate (70%) – break in to small pieces
  • 115g unsalted Irish butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 55g light brown sugar
  • 3 large organic eggs
  • 1 tsp fair trade vanilla extract
  • 80g plain organic flour
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • tsp sea salt
  • 80g walnuts
  • [b]For the smoky syrup:[/b]
  • 250ml boiling water
  • 4 tsp Lapsang souchong tea
  • 80g caster sugar
  • [b]For the smoky caramel:[/b]
  • 100ml organic cream
  • 4 tsp Lapsang Souchong tea
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp cold water
  • 115g unsalted Irish butter
  • [b]For the sponge layer:[/b]
  • 150g unsalted Irish butter
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 140g organic Greek yoghurt
  • 220g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • tsp baking soda
  • 150g (approximately 1 large) ripe pear
  • [b]For the topping:[/b]
  • 180g walnuts (toasted in the oven at 170°C for 5 minutes, then cut into large chunks)
[b]For the chocolate bases:[/b]
  1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir intermittently with a spatula to melt and incorporate.
  2. When it is fully melted, turn off the heat but leave the bowl in the pan. Add the two kinds of sugar and use a whisk to incorporate them. When fully mixed in, remove the bowl from the pan and set aside for the mixture to cool slightly.
  3. While it is cooling, preheat the oven to 175°C and grease a brownie pan (13” x 7.5”) with melted butter and line the bottom and short ends with a long strip of parchment.
  4. Break the eggs into a jug, add the vanilla extract and beat together. Sieve the flour, cocoa and salt together and set aside.
  5. The chocolate mixture should now be slightly cooled, gently whisk in by hand the beaten eggs in two additions, ensuring the first is fully incorporated before adding the second addition. Next use a spatula to fold in the flour/salt/cocoa until just incorporated – do not over-mix.
  6. Pour about half of the mixture into the prepared pan and use the spatula to spread it in a thin, even layer. Sprinkle the coarsely chopped walnuts all over the chocolate layer and then cover with the remaining mixture. Make sure it is as even as possible.
  7. Pop into the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. Cool in the pan on a wire rack and then carefully remove it from the pan when completely cooled. Use a 6.5cm diameter mousse ring to cut out 8 circles and set them aside. These will form the bases of the cakes. Cut the remaining off-cuts of chocolate base into chunks and store in an airtight jar for snacks. Stored in this way, they will hold for up to 10 days.
[b]For the smoke-infused cream (for the caramel)[/b][b]:[/b]
  1. In a small pan bring 100ml of organic cream just to the boil then remove from the heat. Add 4 teaspoons of the lapsang souchong tea leaves, stir and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Use a tea strainer to strain the cream into a jug and set aside until you are making the caramel.
[b]For the smoky syrup (for the sponges):[/b]
  1. Pour 250ml of boiling water over 4 teaspoons of lapsang souchong tea leaves and let infuse for 30 minutes, then use a tea strainer or fine sieve to strain the tea into a small pan and stir in 80g caster sugar. Stir slowly over low heat until the sugar has fully dissolved and then bring to the boil and remove from the heat. Set aside.
[b]For the sponge layer:[/b]
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and use melted butter to grease 8 mousse rings (6.5cm diameter) and space them out on a baking tray lined with parchment.
  2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out all the seeds with a teaspoon and add to a small jug. Break in the eggs and beat together with a fork, then gradually add to the butter and sugar beating constantly until incorporated.
  5. Add a third of the flour mix and beat until incorporated, then add a third of the yogurt. Keep alternating the flour and yoghurt they are both fully mixed in.
  6. Peel and dice the pear into approximately 0.75cm chunks and fold into the batter mix with a spatula before filling the mousse rings three quarters full.
  7. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through. Check they are cooked by piercing the middle of each cake with a toothpick, which should come out clean. Slide the parchment – with the cakes in their rings – onto a wire rack to cool.
  8. When the cakes are cool enough to handle, use a long-bladed, sharp knife to slice off the top of each cake using the top of the ring as your guide. This gives a flat top for the nuts and caramel, but also open the ‘pores’ of the cake so that it will better absorb the smoky syrup. Carefully loosen each cake from its ring and from the parchment underneath, but leave them sitting in the rings. Move them, still on the parchment, into a dish with sides to catch the excess syrup when you pour it into the cakes.
  9. Deeply pierce the cakes with a toothpick and then carefully spoon the smoky syrup over each cake. Leave to soak up the syrup while you make the caramel.
[b]For the smoky caramel:[/b]
  1. Put the 4 tbsp of water into a medium large, heavy-bottomed pan and then pour on the caster sugar. Stir together over low heat to dissolve the sugar and then turn up the heat to medium and leave – without stirring – to caramelize to a dark, nutty amber colour. Meanwhile, reheat the infused cream in a small pan and then remove from the heat as it reaches boiling point.
  2. When the sugar has reached the correct colour, turn your extractor fan on high and using a long wooden spoon stir the cream into the caramel. It will hiss and bubble up furiously so stand back until it settles down, but continue stirring throughout so that it doesn’t form lumps. When it stops hissing, add the butter, small lump by small lump, stirring in each then adding the next, until it is all incorporated. Pour the smoky caramel into a bowl to cool slightly. It will thicken as it cools.
[b]To assemble the cakes:[/b]
  1. Lay out the chocolate bases and spread each with a little of the smoky caramel. Line up the moist sponge cake on top, using the mousse rings as a guide if needs be. Next, generously spoon and gently spread more smoky caramel on top of each cake and then add the toasted walnuts, drizzling them with more caramel and brushing them with a little remaining smoky syrup.



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