Inverting a cake can make me feel as if I'm performing a juggling act onstage, in danger of dropping all the balls. Yes, I've blown it in front of my audience, and my guests and I had to settle for an ugly dessert. But once you discover parchment paper (the secret to flipping a heavy iron skillet without flipping out), upside-down cake is a piece of cake. What I like about this pear cake is that the batter isn't sweet, yet the caramelized fruit topping tips it into the dessert realm. And the steam from the fruit makes it moist and juicy. The cake has many common fall ingredients, but they're combined in offbeat ways: Upside-down cake is usually make with canned pineapples; pears most often appear in cobblers or crisps; cranberries tend to show up as Thanksgiving relish. Brown sugar imparts an almost melancholy molasses flavor, while ginger and cinnamon add zip and warmth. It's a dessert that makes you grateful to be indoors, sheltered from the nip in the air.
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 14 Tbsp. (1 3/4 stick) button, softened (Olivio works okay)
- 3 firm pears (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and cut into 1/4-inch wedges
- 2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2/3 cups whole milk
- 2 Tbsp. fresh or dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 325oF (about 160oC). Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 10-inch ovenproof skillet; set aside. In the skillet over medium-high heat, stir the brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp. butter until melted. Add the pears. Saute them until fork-tender and start to brown, 5-7 minutes. Pour the pears and the juices into a large brown and allow to cool slightly. Clean the skillet.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, remaining 1 tsp. cinnamon, and ginger. In a large bowl, with a mixer set on high speed, beat the remaining 12 Tbsp. butter and the granulated sugar until fluffy. Reduce the speed to low; beat in the eggs and vanilla until well blended. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until blended.
Coat the skillet with vegetable spray or butter. Place the parchment paper in the skillet and arrange the pears in overlapping circles. Pour the remaining pear juice mixture over the pears and scatter the cranberries. Carefully spoon the batter over the fruit. Using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly. Bake the cake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges to loosen from the sides of the skillet. Invert the cake onto a serving plate. Remove the parchment paper. Server the cake by itself or with ice cream, whipped cream, or creme fraiche. Makes 8 servings.
Substitute 3 peeled apples for the pears. when sauteing the apples in the skillet, add 1 additional tsp. of cinnamon.
Peel and seed a small pumpkin and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices 3 to 4 inches long. Substitute maple syrup for the brown sugar and saute the pumpkin meat and 1/4 of the seeds 6 to 8 minutes, until fork tender.