Here’s the thing: I love baking and I hate pumpkin pie, the epitome of Thanksgiving desserts. Even though Thanksgiving for most people is steeped in tradition and must-have dishes, I am always wanting to try out something I haven’t made before. Yes, there are the standards that must appear on the table: mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, and my mom’s cranberry sauce. But anything else is fair game, especially desserts! I probably peruse several dozen cooking magazines, blog sites, and cookbooks leading up to Thanksgiving to get inspired and find the perfect desserts for the upcoming feast. Cause it is a feast, and you need at least 3-4 desserts, right?
The following cake I created out of nostalgia for the South, where I grew up. You don’t often see upside down cake in other parts of the country, but it is a staple in the South; usually made with canned pineapple and maraschino cherries nestled in buttery sugary goodness in the bottom of the cake pan. Once baked, it is flipped over to reveal a beautiful design of pineapple rings and cherry dots.
For my version, I went with pears, which are in season and offer more of a subtle sweetness. I added a little cornmeal to the cake as well, playing off the Southern style of cornbread, which always has a healthy dose of sugar. This dessert is really quite simple to make but has a lot of “wow” factor in presentation.
Some key factors in making the dessert: Do not skimp on the butter/sugar mixture in the bottom and take a little time to arrange the pears in a pretty pattern.
I preferred using the balloon whisks to mix the cake batter, specifically when creaming the butter and sugar. I found this gave the cake a little more volume and helped mix everything together quickly and thoroughly. Click HERE for a refresher on using the whisk bowl and beater attachments.
Make sure you let the cake cool slightly in the pan and CAREFULLY flip over. That syrup will be hot and you want it to seep into the cake and not on you!
While mascarpone cream certainly isn’t traditionally paired with upside down cake, I enjoyed the slight tang from the mascarpone and the freshness of the clementine zest when paired with this cake. You could certainly serve it without if you wish.
A quick note on the variations: Both turned out beautifully. The whole wheat flour paired well with the cornmeal and the coconut sugar made an excellent substitution for brown sugar because they have similar textures. The gluten-free version was a bit more crumbly, but not lacking on taste at all. Whatever your dietary restrictions or health concerns, I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I do, and have a wonderful holiday!
Pear Upside Down Cake with Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium pears, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup vanilla sugar*
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
8 ounces mascarpone cream
12 ounces heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh clementine or orange zest
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine 4 tablespoons of the butter, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar and the vanilla extract in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and sugar have melted together.
Remove from heat and arrange the pear slices in a pattern over the entire bottom of the skillet.
Set up the Ankarsrum mixer with the whisking bowl and balloon whisk attachment. Cream the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar and the vanilla sugar on medium speed (4 o’clock position) for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla bean seeds and mix until combined.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Alternately add the dry ingredients and buttermilk, mixing on low speed (2 o’clock position) after each addition.
Pour the cake batter over the pears and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter.
While the cake is baking, wash out the whipping bowl and reassemble with the balloon whisks. Add the mascarpone and beat on medium speed (4 o’clock) for 30 seconds. Add the whipping cream, increase speed (6 o’clock on the speed dial) and beat until soft peaks begin to form. Slowly add the sugar and zest and beat until firm but not stiff peaks form. Serve with the cake.
Yield: 10-12 servings
*To make your own vanilla sugar, take a used vanilla bean pod and place in a canister of sugar. Shake around and let it sit for several weeks, allowing the vanilla flavor to infuse into the sugar. Use as you would regular sugar.
Whole Grain/Natural Sugar Version: Substitute the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour (or soft white wheat if you mill your own flour.) Replace the brown sugar with coconut sugar and the white sugar with sucanat with honey (aka honey granules).
Gluten-Free Version: Replace the 2 cups of all-purpose flour with 1 cup sorghum flour, 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 1/4 cup tapioca flour and 1/4 cup potato starch.