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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

maple pear upside-down cake

I am still trying to eat my way through 15 heads of broccoli, and I will tell you all about that, I promise. I am also going to tell you about the amazing good times we are having here with watermelon radish, kabocha squash, and beets. But before we jump into all that healthy stuff, let's sneak in a little dessert, shall we? Since it makes me feel a wee bit guilty having dessert when there are still veggies on my plate, I'll even throw in a little public service announcement while we're at it.

This is a maple pear upside down cake. It is delicious, especially served warm with a little vanilla ice cream. I wish I could show you a picture of it divided and dolloped, but we took this to dinner at a friend's house. I wanted to take some pictures after we dished it up, but I didn't want everyone to be stuck, mouth watering, waiting for dessert while I clicked away with the camera. And by "everyone," I mean "me." I couldn't wait a second longer, even though it looked so beautiful it was a shame not to capture the melty ice cream on film. I guess I can't have my cake and eat it too.  heehee.

The combination of pear and maple in this cake make it ideal for fall. I think it would be a fantastic addition to any thanksgiving meal, except where I am going for thanksgiving (the guests are looking for nothing but pie). Plus, the ring of pear slices looks fancy enough to impress your friends or family.

This cake is pretty simple to put together. You simmer some maple syrup, brown sugar, and butter together, place some pear slices on top and cover it with a pretty typical cake batter. After it is done baking and inverted onto a plate, the syrup sinks down into the cake, giving it a delicious flavor and consistency.

But here is where the public service announcement comes in: Do not, under any circumstances, burn your house down while making this cake. Don't even fill it with billowing black smoke. It's just not good.

You see, the cake you are looking at here is the second pear cake I made Saturday morning. The first ended up, half baked, in the backyard getting rained on.

I guess the real lesson is that you shouldn't use a springform pan. I know that springform pans are convenient and I know they make me feel much more confident that the cake will pop out easily and in one piece. However, I also know that springform pans leak. I am not sure why this little tidbit didn't occur to me Saturday morning, but there I was with maple syrup/butter mixture dripping out of my cake, puddling in the bottom of the oven, and creating tons of thick smoke in my kitchen. And family room. And living room, entryway, bathroom, office, staircase....

Summoning my bravery (and a big gulp of air), I headed right into the source of the smoke, pulled the half-done cake out of the oven and handed it to my husband, relay-race style, who ran it outside while I rubbed smoky eyes and ran around opening windows and positioning fans.

Even though the friends we were going to have dinner with are the type of people that I could show up with a bag of Oreos and they wouldn't mind in the slightest (and believe me, I was tempted), I wasn't going to quit while I was behind. Dang it, I was determined to make that cake. So I sighed, grabbed a regular cake pan, and began again. 

And you know what? With all the butter in this cake, especially the topping, there is no need to even grease the cake pan, and it all comes out quite nicely.

So take the straightforward route, skip the springform pan, and enjoy this heavenly fall treat.

Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake
This recipe is from Mark Bittman in the New York Times. I think Mark might become my favorite new recipe source. He uses great fresh ingredients in simple, no-fuss, delicious combinations.

8 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3-4 pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt three tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat; add maple syrup and brown sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for another 2 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. When mixture has cooled a bit, pour it into a 9-inch baking pan and arrange pear slices in an overlapping circle on top.

2. With a handheld or standing mixer, beat remaining 8 tablespoons butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time, continuing to mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, salt, and flour.

3. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with milk; do not overmix. Carefully spread batter over pears, using spatula to make sure it is evenly distributed. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 45-50 minutes; a toothpick inserted into center should come out clean. Let cake cool for 5 minutes.

4. Run a knife around the edges of the cake. Place a plate on top, and carefully invert the cake onto the plate.