Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 24, 2017

© Ryan Szulc and Mike McColl

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Double chocolate pear trifle

Desserts from one of Canada’s favourite pastry chefs

There are a lot of steps to make this trifle, but one reason trifle is perfect for a special occasion is that you can make it ahead of time. The chocolate cake, custard and vanilla-poached pears can be made 1 to 2 days ahead, and you can assemble the trifle a day in advance of serving it.


Prep: 2 hours
Bake/cook: 75 minutes plus chilling


For the cake
1½ c. (375 ml) cake and pastry flour
1⅓ c. (330 ml) granulated sugar
½ c. (125 ml) Dutch process cocoa powder
¾ tsp. (3.75 ml) baking soda
¼ tsp. (1.25 ml) salt
½ c. (115 g) cool unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ c. (125 ml) hot, strongly brewed coffee
½ c. (125 ml) milk
1 tsp. (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 eggs, at room temperature


For the pastry cream
2 c. (500 ml) milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds only, or 2 tsp. (10 ml) vanilla bean paste
6 egg yolks
6 tbsp. (90 ml) granulated sugar
¼ c. (60 ml) cornstarch
3 oz. (90 g) white chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. (30 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces


For the pears
5 Bartlett pears
3 c. (750 ml) water
3 c. (750 ml) granulated sugar
¼ c. (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, seeds only, or 1 tbsp. (15 ml) vanilla bean paste


For the ganache and assembly
4 oz. (120 g) bittersweet couverture/baking chocolate, chopped
1½ c. (375 ml) whipping cream, divided
2 tbsp. (30 ml) granulated sugar
1 tsp. (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
dark chocolate shavings, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 17- x 11-inch (43- x 28- cm) baking tray with parchment paper, but do not grease the pan.

To make the cake, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, cutting it in (if using a large bowl, use electric beaters) until the mixture is a fine crumble (like fine breadcrumbs) and no large pieces of butter are visible.

Stir the hot coffee, milk and vanilla together, and add it all at once to the flour mixture, blending on medium speed until smooth. Break the eggs into a small dish, stir them with a fork, and then add them to the batter, again blending on medium just until smooth (the batter will be very fluid). Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly, and bake for 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in its pan.

To make the pastry cream, heat the milk with the vanilla bean seeds in a saucepan over medium heat until just below a simmer. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together. Place the white chocolate and butter in a bowl, placing a fine mesh sieve over top.

Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture and then return it all to the saucepan. Whisk this constantly over medium heat (switching to a spatula to get into the corners) until thickened and glossy, 2 minutes. Pour this immediately through the sieve, whisking it through if needed, and stir in the white chocolate and butter. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard, cool to room temperature, and then chill until ready to use.

To make the pears, peel, halve and core the pears, and remove the stems. Bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean seeds up to a full boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the pears. Place a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the saucepan (called a cartouche) directly on the surface of the liquid to cover the pears. Return the liquid to a gentle simmer over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the pears cool to room temperature in the syrup before chilling until ready to assemble.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small bowl. Heat ½ cup (125 ml) of the whipping cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat and pour this over the chocolate. Gently stir the mixture until the ganache is smooth and cool to room temperature. Whip the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) of cream with the sugar and vanilla, and chill until ready to assemble.

Have ready a 12-cup (3-L) trifle bowl or glass vessel. Turn the chocolate cake out onto a cutting board, peel away the parchment paper, and cut three or four layers of cake the size of your trifle bowl. Remove the pears from the vanilla syrup (saving the syrup) and cut them into ½-inch (1-cm) slices, saving one intact pear half for the top of the trifle.

Start by placing a layer of cake in the bottom of the bowl. Brush this generously with vanilla syrup and top with a layer of white chocolate pastry cream. Drizzle the cream with a little chocolate ganache and arrange some pear slices over top.

Repeat this with the cake, syrup, cream and pear until the cake layers are used, finishing with a layer of pear slices. Top this with the whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Slice the final pear half so that it fans out from the stem end and place this on top. Chill the trifle until ready to serve. The trifle can be prepared and assembled up to a day in advance. Serves 12 to 16.

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