Spiced Pear, Pomegranate, and Butterscotch Upside-Down Cake

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If you’ve ever wondered what autumn on a plate might taste like, then you just might want to try this riff on a classic upside-down cake. Thick slices of juicy pear, poached in pomegranate juice to add a tart undertone, meld with a rich butterscotch glaze to form a fudgy-sweet topping for a soft, moist cake, fragrant with autumnal spices. Served warm from the oven with a sprinkling of crunchy pomegranate seeds and a scoop of creamy mascarpone, this cake is as cozy and comforting as a hand-knitted sweater and is the perfect treat to follow an afternoon of leaf raking, pumpkin carving, or just watching the raindrops race down the windowpane.

Serves: 8| Active time: 35 minutes (start to finish: 2 hours, including cooling and baking)

upsidedown-cakeFor the pear, pomegranate, and butterscotch topping

Butter and flour for the cake pan
2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice (bottled is fine)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon
3–4 ripe but firm pears
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup soft brown sugar

For the spiced cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup pear pomegranate poaching liquid (left over from the topping recipe above)

The seeds of one pomegranate to decorate (optional)

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, then butter over the paper too. It’s best not to use a springform pan, in case the butterscotch topping leaks, but if that’s all you have, then line the pan with a circle of aluminum foil before lining with parchment paper.

For the topping (you can do this in advance if necessary)

Mix the pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice together in a wide, high-sided skillet. Bring the juices to the boil and simmer for around 5 minutes until they thicken slightly. Set aside.

Using a paring knife, peel, halve, and core the pears. Place flat on a work surface and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices.

Add the pear slices to the pomegranate juice in the pan and gently poach them over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until soft but still firm. Set aside to cool, still in the poaching liquid, for at least 30 minutes, but overnight in the fridge if you like.

When you’re ready to make the cake, remove the poached pear slices from the poaching liquid and pat them dry with paper towels. Reserve half a cup of the poaching liquid to make the cake – you can add the remainder to cocktails or soda water, stir it into your morning yogurt, or just drizzle it over the cake when you serve it.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour into the prepared cake pan, making sure the whole bottom is covered. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter. Arrange the pear slices over the bottom of the cake pan, overlapping as necessary. Set aside in the fridge while you make the cake.

For the spiced cake 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Sift the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl. Stir to combine.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, light, and fluffy, about 3–4 minutes.
Reduce the speed to medium and add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Reduce the speed to low and stir in a quarter of the flour mixture, then half of the reserved pomegranate poaching liquid. Alternate between flour mixture, the remainder of the poaching liquid, and flour mixture until everything is incorporated, scraping down between each addition. Don’t overmix, as that will lead to a tougher cake.
In a metal bowl, beat the reserved egg whites with a hand mixer until stiff but not dry. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg whites into the cake batter, being careful to retain as much air as possible. The finished batter should be like a light, airy mousse.

Dollop the batter onto the pears in the cake pan and spread it out evenly to the sides of the pan with a spatula.

Bake until the cake is well browned on top, firm to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the pan, place a cake plate upside down on top of the pan and immediately invert the cake onto a serving dish.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds if desired.

Paola Thomas draws on her English and Italian heritage to tell food stories through images, words, and recipes. See more of her work on paolathomas.com.

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