This is the time of year where pears are at their best, so what’s a fruit-based dessert junkie to do? This was a delicious, sweet and nutty upside-down cake, topped off with some caramelized pears.
Cardamom is one of those spices that you’ll find featured a lot in Indian cooking, but outside of that, it seems to be a pretty rare thing. If you’re not sure if you’ve ever had cardamom before, I’d recommend you try to pick some up with next week’s groceries–its interesting and you’ll find some good uses for it. I try to experiment with it a lot in other dishes, and I was delighted to have it featured in this dessert. The cake batter has three really strong flavors at play: cardamom, hazelnut, and almond, and having them all together at once is a really nice combination. No one flavor overpowers the other, but rather, they all just provide a well-rounded sweet/spicy/nuttiness to the batter that I think is just plain interesting. And I realize its not quite praline (as the title implies), but most of the major praline flavors are at play here (toasted hazelnut, almond, caramel), so I figured it was fair game. 😮
The other big player in this cake is the pear. Summer time is easier for fruit-based desserts–there’s so much in season to choose from. This time of year is a little tougher–at their peak, you’ve got apples, cranberries, pears, and…well, not much else. On the plus side, I love pears (in case that wasn’t already very obvious) and I wanted another pear dessert anyways. Caramelizing the pears is a nice way to soften them up and to create a nice syrup/glaze for the cake (plus it makes the cake sound more decadent 😮 ), which is kind of important for an upside-down cake where you picture some thick syrup dripping down the sides.
All in all, this was delicious. The cake itself had a subtle, well-rounded sweet nutty taste with a light touch of citrus and vanilla that contrasted very nicely against the stronger, honeyed caramel flavor infused in the pears. Really tasty. The only thing I would consider doing differently next time: figure out a way to get another pear or two in there for extra pear-iness (maybe make it a layer cake with a mid-section of like a pear puree? Or pureed poached pears?).
- Caramelized Pear Topping
- 4 Bosc pears
- 1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 lemon
- 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter
- Cake batter
- 1.5 cups flour
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 stick butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- Optional: 1/4 cup pear poaching syrup
First, peel the pears and slice lengthwise, discarding the stem and core.
In a large skillet (large enough for you to lay all of the pear slices in a single layer), mix the sugar and brown sugar. Put this over medium-high heat, stirring periodically. After about 5 minutes, add in the honey, zest the lemon, and squeeze in the lemon juice. As the sugar begins to caramelize, add in the butter (diced in chunks), being cautious just in case the caramel bubbles up (caramelized sugar + butter = potential for a large exothermic reaction and risk for burns). You don’t want to wait until the sugar has completely caramelized before adding the butter as this will spike the temperature and burn the caramel (without you noticing).
Once the caramel has almost fully mixed and melted down properly, add the pear slices, doing your best to lay them all in the caramel (and be careful! That stuff is really hot!). Drop the heat down to medium, and let the pears simmer in this for about 10 minutes.
While you’re waiting, prepare your baking pan. I used a round cake pan. Simply grease the bottom and the sides with butter and cut a round of parchment paper to coat the bottom of the pan (this is to prevent your cake from sticking, making it a lot easier for you to remove later). Press the paper against the bottom–it should stick pretty well against the butter. Also take this opportunity to preheat the oven to 350?F.
Once the pears are done cooking, carefully transfer them into the cake pan. I tried to arrange the slices such that the smaller end (where the stem was) would point towards the center, so that there would be something of a fan pattern (don’t try to arrange the pears by hand–remember how hot the caramel is!). Just ensure that roughly the entire bottom of the cake pan is covered in pear slices. Then, carefully pour the caramel sauce into the pan. Leave this aside to cool.
So now, onto the cake batter. Toasted nuts are a part of the batter, so before you go any further, get the nuts in the oven–simply lay them out on a baking sheet and let them go for about 10 minutes. I had whole hazelnuts and almond slivers, so cooking both for the same amount of time obviously didn’t go well (I tossed the almonds and did another batch for less time–no sense adding burnt flavor to the batter!). Once out of the oven, do your best to get the papery coating off of the hazelnuts and put both nuts through the food processor to grind them down finely.
So with the nuts out of the way, on to the rest of the batter. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom into a medium-sized bowl. Mix the ground nuts into this as well.
In a larger bowl, beat the butter until creamy, and then, add the sugar and cream it further until the butter and sugar are well mixed. Add all of the remaining ingredients (except for the milk!) into the wet bowl (eggs, vanilla, and the optional pear poaching syrup). If you add poaching syrup (I just happen to still have it from previous desserts and I wanted to use it–seems like a good match here), be aware that this flavor comes at the cost of making your batter thinner and so it will rise less and take a little more time to cook. Anyways, mix all of this together well.
Now, add about a third of the dry mixture into the wet bowl and mix everything together on low speed just to the point of it combining. Then add in 1/4 cup milk and mix some more. And again with the dry, milk, dry, milk (so you did alternating batches of 3). Ensure everything is well mixed and then gently pour this batter into the cake pan, doing your best not to disturb the pears and caramel sauce (since you arranged them so nicely earlier).
Put this in the oven. If you skipped the poaching syrup, this should take about 25-30 minutes, but with poaching syrup, it should be more like 45 minutes or so. If you clear 25 minutes in the oven, consider tenting the cake with foil to protect it from burning around the edges. Check for doneness by poking a knife in the center–it should come out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and carefully slide a knife around the edges to separate it from the pan. Then, like when making flan, the last step is your chance to ruin everything: you need to flip the cake over and have it come right out (after all, this is an upside-down cake). So place your intended serving plate on top of your cake pan, and then, with oven mitts on and in one clean motion, flip the plate and pan over and slowly lift the pan away–the cake should be sitting cleanly on your plate, pears, caramel sauce and all (if the parchment paper is on the cake, carefully peel it off. It might still be in the cake pan).