Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dark Chocolate, Pear and Pistachio Fail Cake

Looks nice and done, right? Wrong. 200g dark chocolate, 1 Packham pear, and 70g of pistachios in an undercooked cake.

This is the cake that broke my heart. I found it in the April issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller and thought, "Hey, I can do that." It looked decadent and delicious and I thought I could will it to be mine.

A Packham pear that met my really sharp knife.

I had planned on making it for a friend's barbecue. I'd only ever brought cupcakes before and the idea of bringing a full cake, a magazine photo-op worthy cake, to this barbecue made me hunger for oven glory.

The batter, just before the chocolate and pistachios were folded in.

I followed the recipe. I gave it my all. I took the cake out after 30 minutes, thinking that the wet sheen on the toothpick was just from pear juice, and set it on the rack to cool... That's when I watched in horror as the middle of the cake collapsed and mooshed itself between metal, onto the kitchen counter. What.. the fun (and replace fun with the obscenity of your choice). I tried in desperation to scoop it back into the spring form pan from whence it came and threw it bake in the oven, hoping that another 10 minutes would do the trick. No such luck.

The complete batter, smoothed into a greased and lined spring form pan.

In a panic, I threw chunks of the half-baked caked into cupcake tins and glued it all together with vanilla cake batter. I frosted them with both the failed ganache turned "whipped ganache" frosting (it separated, so I added a bit of powdered sugar, some cocoa powder, and took an electric mixer to it) and some cream cheese frosting. These crazed cupcakes had literally eaten my fail cake. Thus, cannibal cakes were born.

But this is about dark chocolate, pear, and pistachio cake, how it failed, and what I would change next time. So here we go!

Dark Chocolate, Pear, and Pistachio Cake
Adapted from Tartine in Armadale, NSW, AUS, submitted to Australian Gourmet Traveller April 2010

200g 100g dark chocolate (half 60% cocoa solids, half 100%), coarsely chopped
70g (3/4 C) pistachio kernels, plus extra to serve
150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
150g (1 C) plain flour, sieved
1 tsp baking powder
1 Packham pear, cored and coarsely chopped

chocolate topping ganache
150g dark chocolate (60% cocoa solids) coarsely chopped
150ml pouring cream

Different batter stages. Left to right: creamed sugar and butter, eggs mixed in plus flour and baking powder, basic cake ingredients combined.
  1. Preheat the oven to 320 F (160C).
  2. Grease a 22cm spring form pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper.
  3. Combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Crack eggs into a small bowl and pour one-by-one into the creamed butter-sugar, mixing well after each addition.
  5. Add flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
  6. Fold in pistachios and 100g mixed chocolate.
  7. Fold in chopped pear.
  8. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.*
  9. Set on cooling rack and cool in tin 10 minutes before turning out and cooling completely.
  10. Once the cake has cooled, melt 150g chocolate in a double boiler and smooth over entire cake top, allowing some to drip down the sides. Garnish with pistachios.
  11. Let the cake set (30 minutes or so in the fridge) and enjoy!
*time given is an estimate, since my cake failed :)

Dark Chocolate, Pear, and Pistachio Cake Reflections

It certainly looks done from the outside, doesn't it? Sigh.

It still stings a little when I think about how $25 of supplies and a good amount of time just plopped through the cooling rack. Even so, the batter and the cooked portion (a 2 inch ring around the pan) were delicious. I recommend reducing the original amount of mixed in chocolate by half; if the cake is going to have chocolate on the outside, there is absolutely no reason to put 200g inside, I promise.

I'd recommend buying some nice chocolate for spreading on top; Ghirardelli's 60% cacao baking chips have never failed me in the melting department, these can spread and drizzle with the best of them. My ganache failed, and though I will attempt it again some day, I think this cake would be delightful with straight up chocolate on top.

Oh, the timing of this recipe, how it pains me. I should have kept with the toothpick test and waited until it came out clean. Perhaps life would be easier if I made it a bundt. I'm going to try this again some time, and I will have more than a 2 inch ring of cake to show for it!

I sent this recipe to my colleague Jordan at The Caker in New Zealand. She bakes a new cake every week and said she would attempt this very recipe in the future, so stay tuned!


  1. Interesting blog. It is rare one would blog about their trial and tribulations in path of culinary exploits. I have faith you master this cake as long you put your heart in it.

  2. My blog is about cataloguing my learning experiences, and there are bound to be less than perfect things coming out of the oven. Thanks! I know I'll get around to making this cake again with far more success some day.

  3. I've only made ganache a couple of times, but I think the key is to slowly melt the chocolate in a double boiler and then add the cream. The ratio I used was 6 oz chocolate to 6 Tablespoons cream. With a quick google conversion, you had (about) 5oz chocolate to 10 oz cream. I bet if you halved the amount of cream, your ganache would come out a lot better!

    (PS - that totally sucks about your cake falling apart. I tried to make a piecrust on Mother's Day that was a complete disaster, and in desperation I went to the store and bought a pre-made crust. Oy. But the quiche was good and I was only an hour late!)

  4. Thanks for the ganache tip! I need to restock on chocolate ASAP.

    Cakes fall apart every now and then, but the wreckage is still pretty yummy :)

  5. I made it and it is absolutely delicious! I baked in two cake forms, 19cm diameter and 4cm high each. It came out great! You should try again!

  6. Hey Mctfb, I did make it again, many moons ago, and it does work beautifully. Thanks for the encouragement and for reading!

    x M