Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spiced Pear Upside-Down Cake

Happy New Year! Happy Chinese New Year! Wait, let's try this on for size: happy first quarter of 2017! I know I'm a little late to the party, but I hope your healthy resolutions have been set aside. If not, you are about to break them and make a cake that'll knock your socks off. Yes, you!

I took a little hiatus in January and February and walked the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage in Northern Spain. Foodies delight in the variety of treats one can find along the way. Unfortunately, most cafes and restaurants are closed in January because who in their right mind would walk across Northern Spain in the winter?! In fact, entire towns are closed for the most part, which makes one feel like the lone survivor in a zombie apocalypse. As the only survivor, I indulged in tuna with bread, chorizo with bread and cheese with bread. My delightfully beige diet was handy under the circumstances, but somewhat uninspiring.

I wasn't hard done by. I did, however get a little tired of the food updates from my partner-in-crime who was in St. Anton and Barcelona enjoying their four-star food scenes. Sometimes it's just best not to share all of your good news. I played catch up at the end of my trip and enjoyed some Spanish delicacies from the North and a few Catalan favorites in Barcelona. What struck me most were the fantastic pho, sushi and contemporary dishes I also found. The non-Spanish food was pretty remarkable.

This is my first post for 2017 and I was sure I'd be inspired by Spain's Northern cuisine to want to write about it. Instead, I'm just inspired to eat well and write about it. That's what I'm going to do.

I saw a picture of this cake on Pinterest and couldn't quite absorb it at first. The original recipe calls for pomegranate molasses, which gives the batter almost a dark chocolate color. The golden pears pop amidst that background and the combination along with great photography wooed me.  I didn't have pomegranate molasses, but used honey with a few squeezes of lemon instead to give the cake the sweet and tart combination that the molasses offers. I also didn't have walnuts readily available, so swapped walnuts in the batter for almonds. I would make this again. The pears are fantastic, especially when balanced with the almond and citrus in the cake. Of course it's also vehicle for whipped cream, which is pretty much the only reason I make cake in the first place.

As with most social media pics, the original was a work of art. Mine, was less arty and a little more avant-garde:

Notice that one pear has been ostracized from the rest. Maybe they had an argument in the oven; we'll never know. Anyways, this is what my baking looks like: it's not going to win any awards, but oh my, it is tasty.

Adapted from:

  • 2 1/2 T unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 3 T fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup runny honey
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 small, ripe Bosc pears (one of mine went missing-would rather not talk about it)
  • 1 cup, unsalted almonds
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t ground cardamom
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 t orange zest
  • 1 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 10 inch round cake pan with butter and cover the base with parchment paper. Coat the sides with a little flour.

Cook the 2 tablespoons of butter, orange and lemon juice, honey and a quarter cup of sugar in a frying pan on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has reduced. This should take about 4 minutes. Add the pears, cut side up and let cook for about 3 minutes, or until some of their juices are released. Flip the pears and cook face down for another 3 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and then arrange the pears, cut side down on the bottom of the pan. Return pan to heat and allow the liquid to cook another 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture becomes syrupy. Pour mixture over the pears and keep in the freezer while you prepare the batter.

Blend the almonds and cup and-a-half of flour in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. Pulse in the baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamon.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, combine the orange zest, eggs and remaining sugar until smooth; about 4 minutes. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, ensuring each batch is well blended before adding the next. Follow with the oil, adding it gradually until blended. Pour the batter over the pears and place pan on a foil-covered baking sheet. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean once inserted into the cake.