We’ve had something of a revelation chez Superspark. Turns out that at nearly six months old, Maddie is perfectly content to sit on the kitchen counter in her Bumbo chair and watch while we cook or clean or wash dishes. Before this realization, cooking had to be strategically planned to coincide with naptimes or else required a little tag team action, one of us babysitting while the other let off some steam in the kitchen. No more! This morning Dylan worked on pizza dough and homemade ricotta by the stove, I washed dishes from last night’s dinner, and Maddie sat in her chair trying with all her might to reach the goodies scattered about her- a box of Life cereal, a tube of Airborne, and a post-it note. Beyond making our lives so much easier, we’re hoping that this might mean that she grows up with a love of good food, cooking, and spending time with us in the kitchen.
This particular cake comes from the pre-revelation days, when cooking was more of a stealth activity, done quickly and silently lest Maddie wake up and the cooking necessarily come to an end. I had never made an upside down cake before and with an overabundance of pears, I set out to make this cake in anticipation of a holiday party in December. Luckily, turns out making an upside down cake is a breeze and was easily done during a single nap. The distinctive scent of cardamom and caramelized sugar made these pears among the tastiness I’d ever eaten and the cake itself had me licking the bowl of batter and scrounging for crumbs once baked. I was happy, no, delighted, when at the end of the party a single, perfect slice remained to eat for dessert the next day.
Although I was first inspired to make a pear cardamom cake by this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Baking and Books, ultimately I used the variation found here on Epicurious, originally from the December 2000 issue of Gourmet.
Pear cardamom upside down cake (serves 8-12)
For caramelized pears:
4 firm-ripe Forelle or small Bosc pears (I used the latter)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
For cake batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
3/4 cup whole milk
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel pears, then halve lengthwise and core. Spread sugar on a plate, then press cut sides of pear halves into sugar to coat, reserving remaining sugar.
2. Melt butter in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low and arrange pears, cut sides down, decoratively in skillet. Sprinkle reserved sugar all around pears. Cook pears over moderately low heat until sugar begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes, and remove skillet from heat.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat well. Add flour mixture and milk alternately in 3 batches, mixing at low speed after each addition until just combined.
4. Spoon batter over pears in skillet, gently spreading evenly and being careful not to disturb pears (batter will not cover tops of all pears). Bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
5. Cool cake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge and invert a plate over skillet. Invert cake onto plate (wearing oven mitts), keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together. Replace any fruit stuck to bottom of skillet if necessary.
Serve cake warm or at room temperature.