Well ding-dang, ya'll, it's been one busy week for this little girl. I kicked the weekend off with a trip to Fenwick Island alongside Garrett of kimchi fame, a trip that was most likely excruciating for him given my talents for needing a restroom just about every seven miles, fussing about tooshy pain, insisting he partake in my dip-your-fries-in-your-Frosty ritual and making sure he understood just how much I hate his taste in music. But I think we ought to call it square since I endured his endless jabs about my ever-aging ovaries, his constant feeling of hunger and complaints that the beach was entirely too sandy. Too sandy. Let's move on.
Now the idea of upside-down anything delights me to no end because it makes my little baking world collide with a Dr. Suess sort of feeling that I would flip my food upside-down, but it really reminds me of my Dad. Back in my wee little days, Dad would make pineapple upside down cake from a box mix; he used crushed pineapples instead of slices and never used those unnaturally colored maraschino cherries. Once it was baked, I'd hover eagerly near the hot pan (no worries, he's a firefighter), watching in awe as he flipped it out onto a wide silver cookie sheet and insisted I not touch it. Impossible! It didn't phase me that the topping threatened to melt the skin off my little fingers, I had to have it. I wasn't terribly terrific at hiding the evidence of my mischief, I always left the cake part exposed to dry out minus its syrupy topping and heck - nobody wanted to eat it after I managed to completely desecrate the thing. It was delicious all the same, the cake softly scented like coconut and dripping with juicy pineapples, swimming in brown sugar. Oh my.
This recipe is sort of a glittery version of that cake, only it's made with sweet-hot ginger and molasses and topped with spicy cinnamon glazed pears. Against my better judgment, I leaned my face in toward to beaters and inhaled the scent of the batter, warm and comforting after a heinously long day. The brown sugar batter is rich and buttery and smooth, the molasses calms the ginger into something more mild, more approachable. It suddenly made me feel very sleepy, and oddly enough, the thought of curling up right alongside those pears and snoozing with a gingery blanket didn't seem so bad. Once it's baked and flipped Dr. Suess style, you've got this giant beauty that smells like Christmastime collided with your grandmother's kitchen. (Assuming it's not my grandmother who doesn't allow sweets or white bread or real milk in the house.)
Make sure you use pears that are already ripe, they won't soften up too much once baked. And while I'm forever a fan of the sugary-sandiness of fresh pears, the contrast against the soft ginger cake is too strong.
Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Café
For the topping:
3 Tbs unsalted butter
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
5 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into thirds lengthwise
For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons fresh peeled, grated ginger
3 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper cut to size.
Melt three tablespoons of butter butter, ½ cup brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Melt the mixture over medium heat for about 1 minute and then pour it into the prepared springform pan, you'll have to coax it to the edges with a rubber spatula but do the best you can, it doesn't have to be perfect. Arrange the sliced pears on top the caramel, it will seem like there's too many to fit but they will, really squeeze them in there.
To make the batter, cream the butter and ¾ cup brown together at medium speed for 3-5 minutes until it is fluffy and a pale golden brown. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then add the grated ginger, beat one minute more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed and making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding another. When all the eggs have been added, slowly pour in the molasses and beat to fully mix. The batter will start to look like it's curdled, but don't you worry your sweet little head, it will come together soon enough.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
On low speed, alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter until it is just combined. It's best to mix the last bit by hand to avoid overmixing, which will create a cake tough enough to break your teeth. And really, that's not what we want here now, is it?
Place the pan on a baking sheet (I learned this the hard way when the batter over flowed just a bit onto the bottom of the oven.) Bake for an hour and a half, covering the cake with a loose-fitting tin foil tent the last thirty minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for ten minutes before inverting onto a cake plate. Release the sides of the pan, and lift it away. Gently lift the pan’s base off the cake, and peel away the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool for a half hour or so, and serve warm, with whipped cream if you want to be a fancypants, but I like powdered sugar just fine.