Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bringing Italy Home

I got to spend over two weeks in Italy last month traveling, eating, studying play therapy and learning about Italian culture.  One of the best lessons I took away from my time there was about finding my joy in everyday moments.  The best way I have found to do that is to slloowww doowwnnn - to take time to just "be" rather than focusing so much on all the things I tell myself I need to do.  In that space I can more easily get in touch with my desires, my playful side - my joy.

Since returning I have made it my intention to bring Italy home with me.  I'm taking my time more, scheduling time to do nothing in fact, and listening... and I'm finding inspiration here...

On my first trip to Italy over a year ago I had the most delicious chocolate pear cake at a little cafe in Rome.  On my more recent trip we got to eat fresh goat's milk ricotta with blackberries - delizioso!  And last week when trying to decide what to make for my class potluck I got a little inventive.

I had found a recipe online for a ricotta pine nut cake that I planned to garnish with blackberries - a nod to the delicious Tuscan dessert I had recently.  However, when I went to make the cake I found I was rather short on pine nuts.  I had just recently bought a large bag of Bosch pears so I decided to let Italy inspire me, used the ingredients I had and came up with my own combination of both desserts.

Here is my recipe:

Chocolate Pear Cake with Pine Nuts and Ricotta
by Stephenie Korte

4 Bosc pears, poached (see instructions below)
3 cups water
1 cup sugar, separated (1/2 cup to poach pears, ½ cup for cake)
(I often use a mixture of white and brown sugar or succanat).
1 stick salted butter, softened
4 eggs, room temperature
5 oz dark chocolate, chopped (Be sure to use good quality chocolate)
½ cup all purpose flour (you can substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
½  cup finely ground almonds
4 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼  tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¾ cup whole milk ricotta
½ cup pine nuts

You’ll also need:
Parchment paper
9 inch springform cake pan

Step one:  Poach the pears
Peel, quarter and core the pears.  In a large sauce pan combine sugar and 3 cups of water.  Stir on medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved.  Then add the pears (if needed, add more water to cover the pears), bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 min or until pears can easily be pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.

Step 2:  Prepare the cake 
Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter or spray a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Chop almonds in food processor until evenly ground.  Prepare a bain marie to melt the chocolate:  pour about an inch of water into a sauce pan; bring to a boil and turn down the heat.  Put the chopped chocolate in a shallow, heatproof bowl; place the bowl over the saucepan, making sure the bottom does not touch the water; wait for the chocolate melt.  Once chocolate begins to melt stir frequently until an even consistency.

In a separate bowl mix together all the dry ingredients:  flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, pine nuts and cinnamon.  Set aside.

With an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, until well blended.  Add the melted chocolate, beat on a low speed until combined.  Add the ricotta, mix until combined.  Still on low speed, add the sifted flour mixture and beat for 1 minute, or until just combined.

Pour the ½ the batter into prepared cake pan.  Arrange the sliced pears in a circle.  Pour the remaining batter on top of the pears and smooth with a spatula.  Batter will be thick and fluffy, like mousse.  Bake the cake for approx. 35 minutes. Do not over-bake. When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, with some moist crumbs and a little batter on it the cake is done.  (I don’t like the cake to be dry so I take it out before the toothpick is totally clean).  Dust lightly with powdered sugar.  Cool slightly; serve warm. 

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