5 firm-ripe pears, such as Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc, about 8 ounces each
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Poire Williams or any other pear brandy
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted*
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Roasted pear sauce:
11/3 cups granulated sugar
Reserved pan juices and roasted pear chunks from roasted pears (see above)
3/4 cup water plus additional as needed
1 cup heavy cream plus additional as needed
1/4 cup Poire Williams
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sprigs of mint
*To toast almonds, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread nuts in single layer in rimmed baking pan and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until nuts are fragrant and deep golden, shaking pan two or three times during baking. Cool completely before using.
1. Make roasted pears: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F.
2. Peel, halve lengthwise, and core pears. Combine butter, lemon juice and pear brandy in ovenproof skillet large enough to hold pears in one layer. Turn pears to coat with liquid mixture then place cut side down. Sprinkle sugar evenly over pears. Roast for 15 minutes, then baste with pan juices. Continue to roast for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until pears are tender but still hold their shape. Remove pan from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Set pan aside until pears are cool enough to handle.
3. Butter bottom and sides of 9" springform pan. Line bottom with round of parchment paper and butter paper.
4. Slice each roasted pear half lengthwise into 3 wedges. Arrange 16 wedges, cut side down, on bottom of prepared pan in circular pattern with rounded ends 1/2" from edge of pan. Pattern will resemble spokes of wheel. Cut as many additional wedges as needed into 1/2" chunks to fill center space.
5. Coarsely chop remaining wedges and return to skillet containing pan juices. Reserve for roasted pear sauce.
6. Make torte: Put confectioners' sugar in bowl of food processor fitted with metal chopping blade. Pulse several times to distribute sugar. Add cooled toasted almonds and pulse until almonds are finely ground. Transfer to medium-size bowl.
7. Add flour and salt to bowl containing almonds and whisk until blended. Set aside.
9. In bowl of electric mixer, using paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Add melted chocolate and beat until blended. On low speed, add flour mixture in 2 additions and mix just until flour is absorbed. Carefully spread batter over pears in prepared pan and smooth top with small offset metal spatula. Tap pan gently on counter to distribute batter.
10. Bake cake for about 50 minutes, or until top is firm and tester inserted in center comes out mostly clean. Cool on wire rack in pan for 30 minutes. Remove side of springform pan. Invert cake onto flat platter and remove parchment paper (pears will be facing up). Return to wire rack and cool completely.
11. Make roasted pear sauce: Add sugar to skillet containing pan juices and chopped roasted pears. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, until syrup turns deep golden amber. Remove from heat and pour in water, heavy cream and pear brandy (be careful - mixture will bubble up). Add salt and return to low heat. Whisk until well-blended and smooth and any hardened bits of caramel are dissolved. Raise heat and bring to boil; boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly.
12. Pour contents of pan into bowl of food processor fitted with metal chopping blade. Process until pears are pureed. Strain sauce through metal sieve into heatproof bowl. There will be about 2 cups sauce. Cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
13. When ready to serve, check consistency of sauce. If too thick, whisk in additional cream or water, as needed.
14. Cut cake into slices and place on dessert plates along with some roasted pear sauce. Garnish each serving, if desired, with whipped cream, blackberries, toasted almonds and mint.
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