Pear Upside-Down Cake

As we lose some of my favorite summer vegetables this time of year, fruit really comes to front stage. North Carolina is full of pears and apples right now. As you have picked up, I love adding them to both salads, savory dishes, mixed on cheese trays and – in desserts! I saw this recipe for Pear Upside-Down Cake in Bon Appetit and thought it would be the perfect finale to my Westerwood Welcome dinner. It was seasonal yet a bit different from your average dessert – I love the crunchy cornbread texture that the polenta adds to the cake. It is more hearty and rustic than  traditional – which is why it compliments a casual Sunday supper so perfectly.

PS: It is also very good for breakfast the day after!

Pear Upside-Down Cake, from Bon Appetit November 2011 

  • 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 teaspoons 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)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter pan; line bottom with a parchment-paper round. Whisk flour, 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 tablespoons 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 occasionally 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 inside of pan to release cake.

 

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