I realize that I don’t often post dessert recipes. That’s because I don’t often make them, unless we’re having company for dinner. Personally, I would much rather have something salty and crunchy as a treat, as I rarely crave sweets, unless it’s a piece of chocolate after dinner. How about you? Are you a sweet or savory kind of person?
So last Saturday, when we had our early St. Patrick’s Day dinner with our dear friends Margaret and Wayne, I made this Pear & Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake. I love pears. I used to make poached pears a lot when our kids were young. I remember our oldest son loved them and even tried making them himself when he was about 12, for his church youth group friends, with totally under-ripe pears – didn’t work out so well – not a good thing. He just thought he could cook them longer, but we all know that won’t work.
This recipe is from Dana Cowin’s new cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. She is the former editor of Food & Wine magazine. I had the opportunity to meet her last fall and she’s lovely!
With this book, Dana says, “I’m hoping, though, to encourage people who think they are incompetent in the kitchen to give it another shot, to realize they can do better and it will be fun. I’m trying to erase the embarrassment that sometimes comes with kitchen mistakes and embrace the power of practice and learning.”
I am trying to do that with this blog and our MARY’s secret ingredients surprise subscription box too! We are running a special on our spring box to spread the word even more, which is set to mail after March 25th. It’s Get One & Give One. Buy one spring box for yourself (for $34.00 including shipping) and tell us who to give the other one to by emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with your friend’s address.
We want everyone to be happy, healthy people walking this earth. Our surprise box of new, natural products you’ve probably never heard of but you need to know about enables you to transform your meals from ordinary into extraordinary! Each purchase helps us in our partnership with the global organization, Feed The Children, as we are donating a portion of our profits to them to combat hunger. And remember, good cooks never lack friends.
This latest spring box is awesome with a value of over $54.00!
Meanwhile, back to the Pear & Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake. It is easy enough to make but it got really dark with the dark brown sugar and honestly, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it could have been a tad sweeter. I might try to remake this using regular brown sugar and less butter. Some of you, I know, are real experts on desserts. What do you think, if I did that? Would it still work – as the amount of butter – 2 sticks is a LOT! I would think you could do this with at least 2 – 4 Tbs. less. Let me know what you think.
I remember my mother used to make a pineapple upside down cake often on Sundays. Popular in the 60’s and 70’s BUT, she had to use canned pineapple rings and she’d put a half of a maraschino cherry in the middle of each ring – yuck! Remember that? I don’t think fresh pineapples were even available in St. Louis in those days.
I always tell my kids, look at the author or chef of the recipe. Are they overweight? Then watch out, their recipes are likely to be fattening. This is not true with Dana, but this is still a lot of butter.
Other than that, this is fairly simple and quick to make. You don’t have to use your stand mixer, and it makes a pretty impressive presentation with the beautifully fanned out pears.
Here you go with the exact recipe from Dana’s book, and I did follow it to a T, something I rarely do. Enjoy!!
PEAR & BROWN SUGAR UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE – from Dana Cowin’s Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen – serves 8 – 10
Making caramel–heating water and sugar until you have a golden amber syrup–is a fundamental element of many desserts that I love, none of which I’m predisposed to replicate. I have made mistakes over and over again when I have tried to tackle caramel: I’ve overcooked it, I’ve undercooked it and I’ve ended up with gritty crystallized cooked sugar. Grace Parisi, Food & Wine’s longtime recipe goddess, solved the problem with a brilliant shortcut in her recipe for an upside-down apple cake. She got the flavor without actually making caramel by laying the fruit on top of a brown sugar and butter mixture; then she poured over the simple batter. I’ve adapted her method here with pears instead of apples. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to work around it.
1⁄2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature, for the pan
FOR THE PEARS
4 Tbs. (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
2 ripe but firm pears, such as Bosc or Bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges (about 1⁄3 inch thick)
FOR THE CAKE
2 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1⁄3 cup whole milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
12 Tbs. (11⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
11⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
FOR THE GLAZE
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tbs. whole milk
1⁄4 tsp. almond extract
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with the 1⁄2 tablespoon butter and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
For the pears, using a rubber spatula, mash the butter with the dark brown sugar and salt in a large bowl until combined. Using your fingers, spread the mixture evenly in the prepared cake pan. Arrange the pear wedges in the pan in concentric circles (filling in any gaps as necessary with smaller pear wedges)
For the cake, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, milk and extracts in the bowl you used for the butter mixture; whisk in the melted butter. Whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl, then whisk into the wet ingredients until the batter is just smooth. Scrape the batter over the pears and spread it in an even layer, without disturbing the pears.
Bake the cake until it is golden and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack for 30 minutes.
Run a dinner knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a serving plate over the pan, carefully invert the cake onto the plate and remove the pan. Peel off the parchment paper. Let the cake cool completely.
For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk and almond extract in a small bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake. Cut into wedges and serve.
Serve with crème fraîche and LOVE.
The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.