Upside Down Spiced Pear & Ginger Cake

It’s so 1990’s, I know, but it’s become one of my favourites. You won’t believe this, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about an upside down pear cake. As this kind of cake has never been part of my repertoire, I had to start researching it a bit. Then I made two reasonably good ones before I landed on this adjustment of a few recipes mashed together. Whenever you research a new dish, it’s not about finding a recipe, but about sussing out the system. Once you got that, you can probably get your first run to be okay. Then you adjust from there, reminding yourself all the time not to go gilding the lily.

One proviso in all of that; if you have never tried that particular dish before, follow the blooming recipe to the letter and don’t start “interpreting” right off the bat. You’d be surprised how big a problem that is with professional chefs. We always think we can do it better, which is difficult when you don’t even know where you are starting from. That’s my rant for the day done. So where was I?

The pear cake I had in mind was nicely caramelised, dark in colour and dark in flavour (if that makes any sense), toffeeish with soft, stewey pears that nevertheless hold their shapes. And without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I think it’s been achieved. It does help that I have my own batch of homemade five spice powder! I really do recommend investing the time into making it. For the recipe, click here Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 1: Five Spice Powder

For the Ginger Syrup:

  • 80ml water
  • 40g cassonnade or soft brown sugar
  • 15g dried ginger

Buy some good quality dried ginger, preferably unsweetened. It’s hard to believe that 40g of cassonnade rather than local soft brown sugar would make any difference in an entire cake, but they do. So go invest in a bag of La Perruche sugar.

Cut the ginger into dice, add the water and cassonnade, or soft brown sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes to reduce by half, then strain. You should get 40ml ginger syrup. You can use this syrup hot or cold, it won’t make much difference. If you notice that when it cools, it’s becoming very thick, you will need to thin it out with a tablespoon of hot water. I add the rum for the caramel to the syrup after it has cooled a little, so I save one step later.

For the Caramel:

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 1 Tbsp dark rum
  • 40ml ginger syrup (see Note below)

Making caramel is just a little more difficult than you would think. Most recipes tell you to keep brushing down the sides of the saucepan with water to prevent the edges of the sugar from burning, but honestly? Life is too short to be stand there brushing the sides of pots. Stirring the melting, browning sugar is a very bad idea, because it will crystallise. So I just gently swing the pan to dissolve the darkening side bits in the main body of the sugar. It works just fine! The picture on the right, just to be clear, is not me stirring the caramel, but me stirring the butter in. You can start on high heat and then gradually reduce the heat to keep better control of the process. As soon as you get near a dark golden, take the pan off the heat. In fact it’s a good idea to take it off before you reach the right colour. Have your butter ready and stir it in as soon as your caramel is done. The cooler butter will prevent the caramel from burning.

Pour the rum into the ginger syrup and pour the mix into the caramel. You will have quite a lot of caramel, toffee rum sauce and that’s a good thing.

For the Cake:

  • 3 ripe, but firm pears
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g flour
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • ½ tsp grated cinnamon
  • 3 whole eggs

Your butter needs to be really soft, so the time to take it out of the chiller was about half an hour ago. Sift the flour into a bowl, add the sugar, grate the cinnamon into it and add the five spice powder. Now, I don’t actually measure the cinnamon, I just grate it in and when it all smells as I like it, I stop. Crack the eggs into the bowl and beat the whole mix with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. It’s as simple as that! You can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, but I like to do it by hand. As long as your butter is soft, it doesn’t take five minutes!

But before you get started with the cake itself, you should butter and line your cake tin. I am using a 20cm spring form. Because you line it, buttering the tin is not strictly necessary, but it will make it much easier to keep the parchment lining in place.

How to line a round pastry tin:
If you know how to do it, skip this paragraph. You want this lining to come up pretty high on the sides, so place your tin on a square sheet of parchment that’s big enough. Fold the parchment in half (yes, you have to take the tin off it again), then into half again to get a get a triangular wedge. aligning the folded sides together. Keep doing folding until your wedge is quite thin. Measure the tip of the wedge to the middle of the tin and cut it so it allows enough for the sides to come up. The more times you fold the paper, the rounder your lining will become. Does it matter how round it is? In this case no, but if you are lining just the bottom, I’d say yes, it is.

Peel your pears, cut them into quarters and core them. I like to place my pears into the tin, so I know exactly how many I need. You won’t need all three, so eat the rest. Tip: If they are not good enough to eat, they are not good enough to bake. Make compote and go shopping for better pears. Try and squeeze as many pear quarters in as you can. They have a habit of shrinking during the baking. For me it’s always a battle between a nice pattern and a good quantity of pear.

Drop the pears into the caramel and stir them gently to coat, then layer them in your tin. Pour the rest of the caramel over and gently scoop the batter on top. There will be a lot of caramel and it’s a it like trying to float all this batter on top. Don’t worry too much if it’s not even. The caramel will be showing around the edges and that’s a good thing. The cake will absorb the caramel during the baking and create this wonderful burnt caramelly crust that tastes like sin.

One last thing. don’t let the cake cool down completely before you unmold it, or the parchment might stick a bit. So leave it for a good half hour, then open the spring form, put your wire rack on the cake and turn it upside down, or rightway up, whichever way you want to look at it. This cake is wonderful when it’s still warm, or even straight out of the oven (for those who are good at timing their dinner parties). After it has cooled down, it will like a day or two of rest before it develops its full flavour. It keeps in the chiller for a good seven days and possibly more, but I’ve never been able to keep it for that long.

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