Cranberry Pear Upside Down Cake

In October a young friend and former assistant told me of a Concord Grape Upside Down Cake that she had baked for a special dinner. Intrigued, I asked for the recipe, but put off trying it for a few weeks. By the time I got around to testing this seasonal dessert, Concord grapes had passed their peak, and my results were lackluster. The clever concept for an unusual upside down cake, however, stayed etched in my mind, and I began to think of other possibilities.  

With the holidays close at hand, I came up with the idea for a cranberry, pear, and walnut creation. For the topping I combined sugar, orange juice, and butter and then added fresh cranberries, diced pears, chopped walnuts, and minced crystallized ginger.  After spreading this mixture on the bottom of a baking pan, I poured a simple batter of cake flour, eggs, and sugar scented with ginger and orange over the fruit, and then baked this ensemble for less than an hour.

This rich buttery cake has an extremely light texture and pairs well with the topping that has both tart and sweet notes. You can serve it warm or at room temperature, or offer it unembellished or adorned with scoops of ice cream or with softly whipped cream. And although this delectable confection makes a festive finale for a dinner, you’ll find it just as tempting at breakfast or teatime during the holidays.

Topping
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup diced pears (peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4 inch cubes)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

Cake
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened plus extra for greasing the baking pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Confectioners’ sugar

1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch straight-sided cake pan well and then line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Butter the paper well too.

2.To make the cranberry layer, combine sugar and orange juice in medium, heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Cook and stir until the sugar dissolves, 1 minute or less. Add butter and cook until melted, a few seconds more. Remove pan from heat and stir in the cranberries, pears, walnuts, crystallized ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon orange zest. Spoon mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

3. To make the cake layer, with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together until well blended and slightly fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Reduce speed to low, and add the eggs, and beat just until blended. Add the flour, baking powder, ginger, salt, and orange zest, and beat just to mix well. Pour the batter over the cranberry/pear mixture, using a spatula to smooth top evenly. Bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and cool 20 minutes.

4. To unmold, run a small sharp knife around inside edge of cake pan. Cover the pan with a dinner plate and invert. Remove and discard the parchment paper. The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, but is best served the day it is made. If not serving immediately, cool and cover with a cake dome or loosely with foil.

5. To serve, dust the cake generously with confectioner’s sugar and slice it into 6 to 8 portions. Serves 6 to 8

© Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2011

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