For the pretzel crust: In a food processor, pulse the pretzels, sugar and butter together until nearly as fine as graham cracker crumbs.
Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment and press the pretzel crumbs into the base.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Once cooled, scatter the caramel pieces over the top and set aside
For the flourless chocolate cake: Adjust the oven to 425 degrees F.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over medium heat.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until they reach medium peaks.
Add the sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Add the egg yolks and whip for two minutes.
Fold in the chocolate mixture in three stages, being careful not to deflate the batter.
Pour the batter into the pretzel crust, and bake for 15 minutes. When done, the center should feel slightly bouncy, but an inserted cake tester should come out like a moist brownie batter.
Allow the cake to cool overnight before unmolding.
For the spice blend: In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon, ginger and star anise until well blended. Set aside.
For the sauteed pears: In a saute pan over medium heat, saute the pears until slightly translucent.
Add the sugar and 1/2 tablespoon of the spice blend, and cook until the pears are tender and their juices slightly thickened. Allow to cool before use.
For the salted caramel sauce: In a large pot, combine the sugar, water, corn syrup and salt. Cook until the mixture acquires a nice amber color, indicating it has reached the caramel stage (325 degrees F on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat.
Gently heat the cream in the microwave, then add it slowly to the caramel (be very careful¿the mixture will bubble up!).
Once all cream is added, stir in the butter. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Let cool.
To finish: Top the cake with sauteed pears and pour caramel over. Chill until the caramel sets.
Serve with brandy-flavored sweetened whipped cream.
This recipe was created by a contestant during a cooking competition. It has not been tested for home use.