Pear Upside-Down Cake

by Liz on November 5, 2011

Pear Upside-Down Cake

Oh hey. How have you all been the last month? School has been good, but busy. I can’t believe how fast this semester is going. My classes are going well overall, which is encouraging. Since the last time I posted, it has finally begun to look and feel like fall. The colors are particularly beautiful this year. I know fall is almost everyone’s favorite season, and I am no different. I absolutely love the cooler weather, the colors, and I don’t even mind that we’re getting more rain. It’s just a part of the beauty. Also, walking around a beautiful old brick college campus during this season isn’t half bad either.



Another thing I love about fall are pears. They’re one of my favorite fruits that I am happy to just cut up and eat, but I also really like them baked into desserts. I found this recipe as I was looking for a good fall dessert. I thought it sounded good, and I don’t have a lot of experience making cake from scratch, so I was up for the challenge. Good grief, I had no idea how frustrating it could be to make a cake. I chalk it up to both user-error and recipe-error. First, there was the caramel sauce I was supposed to make. I burned it the first time. The second time I tried, it turned into hard candy. Delicious hard candy, but not going to work for the cake. Then, I was out of white sugar, but I had already cut up the pears and started on the batter, so there was no going back or going to the grocery store. So, I improvised and found a different sauce that would probably work just fine.

soft peaks

Making the batter was relatively uneventful, thankfully. I got the cake into the oven, and had planned on baking it for around an hour. I am glad that I looked in on it at a half hour. It looked done, but surely a recipe that says to bake a cake for an hour wouldn’t produce a cake that was done after a half hour? I let it go another ten minutes, and then trusted my judgement and took it out. I toothpick tested it and it was definitely done. By then, it was late, and I put it in the refrigerator to eat the next day. Well, that was yesterday, and I was gone from approximately 8 a.m. until midnight. So, this morning, I finally took it out of the refrigerator and yes, I ate cake for breakfast.

pears in caramel sauce

The truth? The cake is good. It’s not earth-shatteringly good, but good. I probably could have used more pears, or maybe added a bit of lemon juice to make them a bit tarter. About the actual cake, I will say that if you are one of those people who really loves a good dense vanilla wedding cake type texture, then you would really like this cake. My favorite part were the edges which were extra gooey and delicious. Overall, I would say it was a success, and I have myself and my intuition to thank for that. I think the cake part would make a great base for some kind of layer cake.

Pear Upside-Down Cake

Pear Upside-Down Cake
Heavily adapted from Bon Appetit

Notes: Okay, bear with me. Like I said, this was a tricky recipe. After two failed attempts at caramel sauce according to the original recipe, I consulted the internet and found a caramel sauce recipe that’s basically the same as my mom uses for her caramel rolls (which I’ll definitely have to post here soon), which uses brown sugar, light corn syrup, and butter. Also, instead of vanilla extract, I used vanilla bean past because I’ve had it for awhile and never used it and thought it would add more vanilla flavor to the cake, which it did. That being said, no need to rush out for vanilla bean paste, just use extract. Finally, I know all of our ovens are different, so you’ll just have to use your own judgement about how long to bake it. Somewhere between 30-60 minutes. Specific, right?

Special equipment: An 8-inch diameter round cake pan and parchment paper


For the topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter (4 oz.)
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 medium pears (your choice on what kind), sliced into thin slices, somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8-inch

For the cake:

1 stick (8 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons coarse yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup whole milk


Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the cake pan, and cut out a round piece of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Bring the brown sugar, 1/2 stick of butter and corn syrup to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Once boiling, continue to boil for another minute and pour into the cake pan. Overlap the sliced pears in even circles on top of the syrup.

In a mixer or large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the softened stick of butter with 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy, around 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, continuing to beat. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk in 2 additions, until just blended. In a separate bowl, with clean, dry beaters, beat the egg whites on low until frothy, and then increase speed to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Fold about 1/4 of the whites into the cake batter, and then add the rest of the egg whites, folding in until just blended. Pour the batter over the pears in the cake pan, and smooth the top.

Bake the cake for 20 minutes, and rotate. Check it at 30 minutes. If the top is golden brown, go ahead and test it with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs. If so, it’s done. If not, bake another ten minutes and test again. Like I said, my cake was probably done somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes, but the original recipe said an hour. Cool on a wire rack for 30  minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the cake pan. To release the cake, invert it onto a large plate by putting the plate on the top of the cake pan and flipping it upside down. Take the cake pan off the cake and remove the parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Pretty. Good. Food. December 12, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Sounds fabulous!

Mom December 7, 2011 at 10:12 am

gonna have to try this…I have a cheaters spicy version (uses boxed ginger bread/cake) but this looks wonderful and without all the spice if one doesn’t want it…never thought about using the caramel topping from the rolls for a caramel sauce…hmm. time to go pear shopping ;-)

Tom November 12, 2011 at 9:21 am

Made this cake from Bon Apetite yesterday and had the same problems. Caramel was too hard to spread, pears Were only a very thin layer, cake was lacking flavor(will add more vanilla next time). Also after 50 min cake was a tad dry. Which I read this first!

Erin November 5, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Your photos are amazing, Liz! Looks delicious.

Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen November 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm

dense vanilla wedding cake… I would go for that :) and with pear to top it up! maybe serve it with caramelised pear sauce? aww now I’m hungry….

christina albrecht November 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Ooo! Looks delicious! And so pretty too. This is definitely something I’d make and bring to a holiday dinner or really any dinner party.

Liz November 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Yeah I don’t know what it was with the original recipe, but I just couldn’t make it happen. I’ve even made caramel sauce before no problem, so I’m not sure what was going on. At least now I know how to make hard caramel candy, right? =)

Jen Hill November 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I love Pear Upside Down Cake. I’ve been making Martha Stewart’s recipe for years and never had any trouble with the caramel sauce…even though I’m a confirmed caramel numbnuts.

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