When I turned the page in Bon Appétit to this recipe on a recent flight down to San Diego, I may have gasped out loud. In fact I must have, because suddenly the guy next to me was looking over curiously. “What could be more captivating than the holiday issue of SkyMall?!”, he must’ve been wondering. Let me tell you.
Not only was this an absolutely gorgeous photo of what I later confirmed to be an equally delicious cake, but seeing it made me realize something: I had never had any kind of upside down cake. Not pineapple, not peach, nothing. How did this happen? As a lover of all things cakey and fruity, I knew I had to remedy this as soon as possible.
And remedy I did! I hope the rest of the upside-down cakes can live up to this one because it’s just heavenly. The combination of pears, caramel, and a moist, fluffy, just-slightly-sweet cake is perfect. It’s also a nice contrast to the heavier desserts of the holiday season. Josh got approximately 2 pieces of this cake before I had devoured the rest. It’s first come, first served in this household, and I made sure not to stray too far from this dessert.
Pear Upside-Down Cake
Bon Appétit, November 2011
A lighter alternative to the typical holiday dessert.
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided, plus more
- 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 2 medium pears (about 1 pound)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- Whipped cream or caramel gelato (optional)
An 8"-diameter round cake pan with 2"-high sides
My oven is a little wonky, so this cake cooked about 10 minutes faster than the recommended time and came out darker than the one in the gorgeous Bon Appétit photo. So keep an eye on it, and if it turns out dark like mine, a dusting of powdered sugar heals all baking wounds!
- Preheat oven to 350°. Butter pan; line bottom with a parchment-paper round. Whisk four, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Stir 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high. Boil syrup without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar turns dark amber, 8–10 minutes. Remove pan from heat; add 1 tablespoon butter (caramel will bubble vigorously) and whisk until smooth. Pour caramel into prepared cake pan and swirl to coat bottom.
- Peel, halve, and core the pears. Place flat on a work surface and cut lengthwise into 1/8"-thick slices. Layer slices over caramel, flat side down, overlapping as needed.
- Mix remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 8 tablespoon butter, and vanilla in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occassionally scraping bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
- Using clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites on low speed in a medium bowl until frothy. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until whites form soft peaks. Fold about 1/4 of the whites into cake batter. Add in remaining whites; gently fold just to blend. Pour batter over pears in pan; smooth top.
- Bake cake, rotating pan halfway through, until top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few small moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of pan to release cake.
- Invert cake onto a plate; remove parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or caramel gelato, if desired.
Do ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.