Ten days ago it was suddenly so cold that I got my winter sheepskin slippers out and was considering changing over to my thicker duvet. Today it’s so warm that I’m back to rocking shorts and jandals… but with my Barbour thrown on because of the rain-in-every-possible-direction that we’re currently being treated to. This topsy-turvy weather is difficult to deal with. We’ve had some rather full-on stormy weather the last few days – rainy, blustery gales that make me feel like I’m in Scotland in November… if I ignore that it’s 22°C at the moment, April and we have palm trees in our garden.
I do love watching the sea when it’s all ferocious like that. Aside from dramatic sea views, there are a couple of good things about this weather. Firstly, the rain has filled up our water tank (yay, showers and clean hair all round!*) and secondly, somebody brought in a glut of pears to the lab yesterday that had all been blown off their tree in the wind. I’ve had an upside-down pear cake recipe bookmarked for ages, just waiting for pear season to start, so as soon as I saw the small mountain of pears, I knew some of them would be reappearing in the lab today in the form of cake. Well, assuming the recipe worked of course…
I had a moment of panic when, having popped the cake in the oven, I decided to have a little munch on a sliver of leftover pear and discovered that it was sour as (let’s not dwell on why I didn’t think to try the pears before I baked with them). Oh no, I thought, what have I done? I can’t possibly bring a horridly sour cake into the lab. I needn’t have worried though; the caramel completely mellowed out the pears. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that firm, slightly sour pears are the best to use in this cake, as they’ll hold their shape when cooking and retain their pear flavour but the sourness will get baked out. The cake went down an absolute storm at the lab – I even overheard claims from several people that it was the best cake they’d ever tasted. I’m not sure that I quite believe that, but I’ll still take that as very high praise. Unfortunately, the cake went so quickly that I didn’t really manage to get any decent photos of it. A victim of its own success, clearly. No doubt I’ll be making it again soon, so I’ll update the photos then.
Upside-down pear & ginger cake
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking
Firm, slightly sour pears would be the best to use for this recipe – the baking will mellow their sourness but they’ll still keep their shape and won’t disintegrate into mush. The actual number of pears required obviously will depend on their size and the size of the cake tin. Whilst utterly delicious as a snack (or breakfast…), this cake would also make a wonderful dessert, served with whipped cream or a caramel sauce. The cake is best eaten the next day so that the caramel can really soak in, and will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.
For the cake:
225g unsalted butter, softened
300g light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
250g all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
3 or 4 firm pears
For the caramel:
100g unsalted butter
130g light brown sugar
To prepare the cake:
1. Line the base of a 24 or 26cm round deep cake tin with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt into the egg mixture and stir together with a spatula or large spoon until just combined.
4. Peel, core and cut the pears into eighths. Set aside.
To prepare the caramel:
5. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and sugar together to make the caramel. Once the sugar has completely melted and the mixture is smooth, pour into the prepared cake tin. Arrange the pears over the top of the caramel, then cover with the cake batter, smoothing the top (it doesn’t have to be perfect).
6. Place the cake tin on a baking tray large enough to catch any caramel that might bubble over the sides (way easier than cleaning a caramel-encrusted oven…) and bake for 50-55mins until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the cake tin for about 5 mins before turning out onto a serving plate to cool completely. The cake is best eaten the next day.
*Just to clarify, we have actually been showering over the past three months. Just quickly and not necessarily at home. And there may have been some scrimping on the hair-washing. Isn’t that a lovely note to end on?