Fingering through my mother’s large crate of clipped and printed-from-online recipes I realized we saved the same ones – the Venetian Carrot Cake from the New York Times in 2007, for example. I’m positive neither she nor I ever made it, but I know, as a daughter knows her mother, that we both loved the Venetian part. I know we both heard the waters lapping along the canals, and both of us thought it fascinating that the Italians actually had an elegant translation of the heavy American health-food standard.
My mother saved recipes – as do I – just because they signaled an atmosphere, an ideal, a romance that, by taking out the scissors and clipping some newspaper, might someday become a possibility. There was always the chance that there would be a quiet afternoon with espresso poured and two wedges of that Venetian Carrot Cake served on glass plates, and someone there discussing our favorite Venetian piazzas.
I haven’t made that cake, but, who knows, the recipe is still in my files.
My mother probably experimented with new recipes far more than a lot of people, but that was because taking scissors to newsprint, clipping a patch of cuisine, was both art and voyage for her. More than the meal itself, she relished – and taught me thus – the way food allows you to dream.
Both our files are heavy on Clafoutis and French Apple Cakes. Anything called a Summer Pudding she and I loved, and she’d saved at least four versions of the English dessert heavy on berries and short on crust. Here’s a Valentine’s cake from my mother’s files, which says exactly who we both are: we like our chocolate quiet, not gooey and tongue-smothering, with a side of fruit. So, while this is not your traditional Valentine’s indulgence, you may know someone like my mother and me who loves pears more than chocolate. Indulge them, too.
Chocolate Pear Upside Down Cake
For Pear Topping:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
3 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 cup butter
6 ounces dark chocolate chips
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9 inch cake pan, set aside.
To make the pear topping, combine sugar, water and butter in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
Bring mixture to a boil, then cover and cook for 3 minutes.
Uncover pot saucepan and continue to simmer, gently swirling the pan as needed until the mixture turns an amber color.
Carefully pour the sugar mixture into prepared cake pan and set aside to harden.
Toss pear slices with chili powder and set aside.
To make the cake, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring occasionally.
Transfer melted chocolate to a mixing bowl and beat in sugar using an electric mixture.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Stir in the flour mixture and the buttermilk in additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture.
Arrange pear slices on the top of the hardened sugar in the cake pan.
Pour cake batter over pears and bake for 40-45 minutes or until cake springs bake slightly when touched.
Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then carefully invert cake onto a plate.
Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.