Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Pear vanilla upside-down cake

Pear vanilla upside-down cake

There's something undeniably retro about an 'upside-down cake'.  Say the words and most people will have a memory of a pineapple, maraschino cherry and sponge cake.  Depending on when you were born it's either a classic or a joke.  If Fanny Craddock didn't make a Pineapple upside-down cake she should have done as, for looks alone, it's very Fanny and Johnnie.  Putting the fruit on the bottom of the cake tin means it will hold its shape beautifully.  It's a cake that has had its fortunes revived so many times that there's got to be something in the recipe to account for it.    

Slice of Pear vanilla upside-down cake

There are still devotees of the pineapple version.  It dates from the early 20th century when pineapples began to be available in cans, but 'upside-down cake' may go back rather further than that.  An old copy of Reader's Digest Farmhouse Cookery offers a recipe for Upside-Down Winter Pudding and refers to it as a "Victorian Pudding".  Pears provide the necessary fruit layer.  Golden syrup, black treacle and lard enrich the sponge and the addition of cinnamon and ginger make it positively festive.  I have made it and it's very good, if rather rich, and the Christmassy spicing might be just what you're looking for right now.  The version below is lighter and allows the delicate pear flavour to shine through rather better than the "Victorian" version does.  My spice of choice with pears is vanilla, and Muscovado sugar is highly recommended for a better 'toffee' quality.

Pears don't store as well as apples do.  They rot from the core so there may be no outwardly visible signs of decay.  If you see British pears in January they've probably been kept in cold stores where the oxygen has been removed.  All the more reason to choose pears for an upside-down cake right now.  Pear, caramel and sponge - all the makings of a good pudding.

Another slice of Pear vanilla upside-down cake

Pear vanilla upside-down cake
(for an 18-20cm round cake tin)

3 pears
2 tbsp mild honey (such as either Orange Blossom or Acacia)
1 de-seeded vanilla pod (save the seeds for the sponge)

50g softened unsalted butter
65g muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mild honey

125g softened unsalted butter
125g raw cane caster sugar
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 large eggs, mixed together
125g plain soft flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Heat oven to 180oC/160oC fan/Gas 4.
Peel, halve and core the pears, place in a saucepan, pour the honey over them and add the de-seeded vanilla pod.  
Add just enough water to cover the pears and cook at a simmer until just tender.  
Take off the heat and leave in the syrup until needed. 

Cream 50g butter with 65g sugar and 1 tbsp honey until light and fluffy.   
Spread over the base of the cake tin.  
Drain the pears, remove the vanilla pod, and place the pears flat side down in the tin.

Mix 125g of butter with the caster sugar and vanilla beans until soft and fluffy.  
Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little of the flour if the mix starts to curdle.  
Sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture.  
Gently mix in the milk.  
Smooth the mixture over the top of the pears.

Bake for about 45 minutes.  Turn out after a further 30 minutes.

Good served just warm or at room temperature - keeps well for a couple of days, though doesn’t look as pretty as on day 1.

This recipe is an adaptation of Nigel Slater’s 'Honey Pear Cake' 
published in The Observer magazine on 6 December 2009