Salted Chocolate Pear Pound Cake

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I am taking part in the “USA Pears Blogger Recipe Challenge”. It’s holiday time and I am delighted to share my delicious recipe entries with you! 

USA Pears are at the peak of freshness right now, so I’m simply happy to accept this challenge using this beautiful versatile fruit. The fact that northwest pears come in 10 varieties and work well in both savory and sweet dishes got my creative juices flowing. I personally love Bosc and Anjou pears for baking. 

First up in the Baking category is what I like to call my “bake two share one” recipe. This recipe allows you to indulge yourself as well as a friend. Friendsgiving is a thing. Wrapped and tied with a bow it makes the perfect hostess gift or teacher present. No better way to show your gratitude than with this stunning homemade cake.

I can’t tell you how much I love this gorgeous moist and flavorful Salted Chocolate Pear Pound Cake. Scented with the warmth of cardamom, coffee and a burst of chocolate flavor this cake is filled with chunks of juicy pears and simply dusted with flaked salt and powdered sugar.

Salted Chocolate Pear Pound Cake

4 firm ripe USA Pears, 2 Bosc pear plus 2 Anjou

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups hot water

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

Flaked finishing salt

Powdered sugar

Heat oven 350F. Spray two 8-9 inch x 5-inch loaf pans with baking spray. Line pans with strips of parchment paper and lightly spray paper. Slice the Bosc pears in half lengthwise just off center from the stem. Do not peel. Place the pear, cut-side down, on a mandoline and thinly slice. You will need 6 slices of pear for each pan. (I like to cut 3 slices from each half.) Remove seeds from slices, if needed. Gently press 3 slices of pear along each side of the long side of loaf pan. Peel, core and small dice the Anjou pears. Toss diced pears with 2 tablespoons of flour until coated; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt; set aside. Stir water and espresso powder together until espresso is dissolved; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar for 3 to 4 minutes or until well combined. Add eggs; blend well. With mixer at low speed, gradually add half of the dry ingredients. Slowly add coffee until combined. Add remaining dry mixture; blend well scraping down sides of bowl and beater as needed. Fold in diced pears and excess flour. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 65 to 70 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan before turning out on a wire rack to cool. Remove parchment and turn cakes upright. Sprinkle top of cake with flaked salt while cake is still warm. Coll completely. Dust with powdered sugar just before slicing and serving.

And here is a tip on how to tell if a pear is ripe. Just press your finger into the neck end of the pear. If the stem moves it’s perfectly ripe, juicy and delicious. For more pear tips and delicious recipes check out the USA pear website at: https://www.usapears.org and social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram) @usapears.

Friends First Competitors Second

My favorite kitchen helper at work measuring out the hot chocolate mix

One of the big advantages of being a competitive home cook is the meeting of like-minded people. In my recipe contest travels I have been fortunate to make friends all over the country. My competitors inspire me nearly every day with their creativity not only as winning cooks, but also as parents, craftsmen and entrepreneurs. Their ability to juggle family life, full time jobs and their desires to extend themselves even further in finding their passion is remarkable. Today, I just feel lucky to know so many kind and generous ladies and gents some of which I have never even met face to face.

Let me tell you about the award-winning cook and Etsy shop owner Shannon Imlay. Shannon and I are FB friends. I believe I first came to know and admire her in an online cooking group better known as The Real Women of Philadelphia. I will never forget my first impression when seeing her online profile photo and saying, “WOW”. Shannon is strikingly lovely. She is also an extremely talented party hostess and certified floral designer all the while taking care of a special needs son on her own. She is impressive.

Shannon has had her share of grief, but truly maintains a positive outlook on life. Her generosity of spirit never ceases to amaze me. Recently, she kindly sent me a most glamorous and decadent giftbox filled with products from her Etsy shop, Shannon’s Romantic Life. 

I could not wait to try both of her hot chocolate mixes inspired by the romantic-comedy movie Chocolat (thus the spelling of her products). Made from just a few high quality and organic ingredients her sipping chocolate is like none other I have tasted. Rich and creamy this is a luscious dark chocolate blend with just the right amount of sweetness. The Spicy Kiss version has a touch of chipotle chili which adds a smokey subtle burn in the back of the throat which was thoroughly enjoyed. All you have to do to make this decadent drink is add milk, whisk and bring to a boil.

If you need a gift (Easter & Mother’s Day) or a reason to spoil yourself then check out Shannon”s Romantic Life on Etsy. Everything in Shannon’s shop is crafted with love, kindness and the highest quality ingredients. She is also very happy to customize any order.

one of the many beautiful pieces Shannon makes…customized with me in mind

High-Rise Banana Muffins

It’s that time of year that I like to clean out my cupboards, pantry and freezer. I pride myself on keeping my baking and cooking equipment organized, but by the end of 2018 everything seemed to be in a tangle.

Inspired by 3 over-ripe bananas discovered in the depths of my freezer it was time to use them up along with a bunch of random paper cupcake liners and near empty containers of spices and extracts. Baking some warm healthy muffins would help me clean things out. And bonus…we get delicious muffins for breakfast.

Today, I bring you a banana muffin that actually tastes like bananas. Tip: bake with over-ripe bananas for the very best flavor. Most muffins I have had in the past are loaded with spices, so they taste more like ginger or cinnamon or chai rather than fresh bananas. While this recipe has a touch of spice the banana flavor and aroma really comes through due to the addition of some banana extract. I love this McCormick brand because it truly does enhance the banana flavor without any weird artificial taste.

You will notice that this recipe starts at a high oven temperature of 425F. before dropping down to 350F. The initial high heat is what gives these muffins the high-rise. As for mixing…you know the drill. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet just until moistened, so they bake up tender. Please feel free to toss in any other healthy ingredients you like. I’m a freak for chia seeds, but some toasted nuts could be good for a bit of crunch

1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 over-ripe bananas (frozen and thawed)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (or 3/4 cup if you like them sweeter)

6 tablespoons coconut or avocado oil

1 egg

2 teaspoons McCormick banana extract

1 tablespoon chia seeds

Heat oven 425F. Line muffin tin with paper liners. In medium bowl, whisk both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. Peel thawed bananas over a large bowl, catching any excess liquid. With electric mixer on low mash up the bananas. Add brown sugar, coconut or avocado oil, egg, extract and chia seeds; blend well. Add dry ingredients and blend at low speed just until moistened and batter is smooth. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 5 minutes and then turn down oven to 350F. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.