Pear and Almond Upside-Down Cake can be made up to 8 hours ahead. (Noel Barnhurst)
Upside-down cake, once referred to as skillet cake, is a classic American dessert. This tried-and-true technique of baking a cake upside-down begins with sugar and fruit layered on the bottom of a cast-iron skillet. Then cake batter is poured on top. Once the cake is baked, it is inverted onto a plate, and the caramel fruit mixture on the bottom of the pan becomes the decorative topping. Use a seasoned cast-iron skillet for best results. The skillet is heavy, which helps prevent the butter from burning, and its panhandle is a welcome tool that assists the cook when inverting the cake
In the 1960s, pineapple upside-down cake became the home cook’s “It” dessert. Canned pineapple rings and cherries made it easier than ever to make this cake. But upside-down cakes also can celebrate what’s in season by using what is farm-fresh from the market, including apples, plums and more.
Caramelizing the fruit in the same pan you bake the cake in makes sense, saving both time and cleanup effort. The fruit will continue to cook after you take it off the heat, so take care not to burn the caramel.
Combining caramelized silky pears with rustic-textured almond cake is a winning combination of flavors and textures. Serve this with some French vanilla ice cream.
Caramelized Pear and Almond Upside-Down Cake
1 cup (4 ounces) blanched almonds
2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 Anjou pears, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the almonds until finely ground, almost like breadcrumbs. In a medium bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Stir to blend.
With an electric mixer on medium speed or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, beat the butter until softened. Gradually beat in the sugar and continue to beat the mixture until it is thick and pale in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and the orange juice, mixing just to combine. Set aside.
To prepare the pears: In a well-seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar, stir to dissolve and cook until bubbly. Add the pear slices in a single layer. Cook in the syrup for about 2 minutes per side, or until both sides are lightly caramelized. (Use tongs to move them around.) Be careful that the syrup does not become too dark. The pears will exude juice and help to keep the caramel from burning. Remove from heat and let cool for 3 minutes.
Pour the batter over the pear mixture and gently spread it around to cover the pears. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Let cool in the skillet for 10 minutes, and then invert it onto a cake plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes one 9-inch cake; serves 8.
Advance preparation: May be prepared up to 8 hours ahead and kept at room temperature.
Per serving: 398 calories; 21 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 47 percent calories from fat); 48 g carbohydrates; 86 mg cholesterol; 119 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 3 g fiber.
Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, and a James Beard award-winning radio show host. seriouslysimple.com.