Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dish | Pear Upside-Down Cake

My best friend of 8 years - and incredible chef - Jared came to visit me for Halloween. Seeing as he lives in Seattle, we rarely get to cook together so I was (really) happy when he suggested a dinner at home. I called "dibs" on the main course and side dish while Jared took responsibility for dessert. I've said it on here before, but I'm not a skilled baker, and the idea of making a cake from scratch is somewhat intimidating so I was more then okay when Jared said he wanted to make a cake he had seen in the newest issue of Bon Appétit.

Jared and I could flip through the pages of Bon Appétit for hours. We'll even go as far as calling it our "food bible". I've basically learned how to cook from reading Bon Appétit but when he flipped to a page with the most beautiful Pear Upside-Down Cake by Karen DeMasco, my jaw nearly hit the floor. I thought, "There's no way he can make this in my sad little kitchen!" But even without an electric mixer, he proved me wrong. I have to admit that the cake I am featuring in this post is not the cake Jared made (my pictures didn't turn out well from that night), but one that I made with the confidence I got from watching him work.

PEAR UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE  |  Recipe inspired by Karen DeMasco/Jared You.

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided, plus more
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar, divided
2 medium pears (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup whole milk
Whipped cream or caramel gelato (optional)

1  |  Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter pan; line bottom with a parchment-paper round. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Stir 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high. Boil syrup without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar turns dark amber, 8-10 minutes. Remove pan from heat; add 1 tablespoon butter (caramel will bubble vigorously) and whisk until smooth. Pour caramel into prepared cake pan and swirl to coat bottom.

2  |  Peel, halve, and core the pears. Place flat on a work surface and cut lengthwise into 1/8"-thick slices. Layer slices over caramel, flat side down, overlapping as needed.

3  |  Mix remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 8 tablespoons butter, and vanilla in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

4  |  Using clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites on low speed in a medium bowl until frothy. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until whites form soft peaks. Fold about 1/4 of the whites into cake batter. Add in remaining whites; gently fold just to blend. Pour batter over pears in pan; smooth top.

5  |  Bake cake, rotating pan halfway through, until top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few small moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around inside of pan to release cake. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. Invert cake onto a plate; remove parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or caramel gelato, if desired.

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