Vanilla, pears, vanilla, pears… and cake!

My garden is still under 2 feet of snow. The last frost date here is June 8. There is no point in even starting seeds indoors yet, but my fingers are twitching to get into the garden and start digging around in there. How are you doing, little worms? Are you still there? Garlic, will you grow? I think I will go uncover you, poor little things….

In the meantime, I am still on a mega pear kick. Which keeps me somewhat content as the winter stretches on… and on… and on. Pears bring such a sweet, delicate, subtle flavour, and never as much as when they are caramelized (I know, you’ve heard it before).

Also, I am on a mega vanilla kick, having procured 60 vanilla beans on eBay for the paltry sum of 2.00$ plus shipping. You, too, can buy ludicrous amounts of vanilla on eBay for paltry sums. Some of it is great, some is a bit dry and dessicated, but what’s great is that I can use vanilla in EVERYTHING without renegotiating my mortgage. Vanilla, pear, vanilla, pear. Definitely topping chocolate-peanutbutter and chocolate-mint AND salt-vinegar on the flavour combinations hotlist.

Elsie, too, is enamoured. Her new favourite food is ricotta with pear-vanilla sauce (her palate is very cultivated, I’m pleased to boast). She can’t get enough. When the grocery money comes in, I’m gonna make a batch of ricotta (another use for buttermilk, P & Sari). Recipe = mix ricotta with the pear-vanilla sauce you made after reading this.

So in homage (if you are Jian Gomeshi, you pronounce it hommage, à la français, even if you are speaking English to Anglophones) to the change of seasons, and to tide you over till your radishes come up next week (I don’t want to hear about it, by the way), I hereby present my Vanilla-Pear Upside-Down Cake, inspired by the vanilla roasted pears on SmittenKitchen and Cook’s Illustrated‘s Apple Upside Down cake (Sept-Oct 2009).

Vanilla-Pear Upside-Down Cake

You will need: Either a 9″ round cake pan or an 8″ square cake pan.

A nice, but not necessary, addition is a sploosh of Calvados, Poire Williams, or other brandy or cognac.


3 pears (any kind, but I like Bosc), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick slices

1/2 vanilla bean

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 lemon – juice of

2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into little chunks

1. Preheat oven to 375 F and generously and unabashedly butter your cake pan.

2. Slice the vanilla bean down its length, scrape the vanilla seeds into the sugar (a small spoon or blunt ended butterknife are good tools for this job), and mix till all the vanilla is distributed throughout the sugar. I find shaking it in a jar is very effective.

3. Fill pan with pears, toss with lemon juice and vanilla-sugar, and then dot with the butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water OR aforementioned booze over top. Cut the vanilla bean into 4 pieces and distribute them evenly throughout the pears.

4. Bake 30-ish minutes, basting and stirring occasionally till the liquid is reduced and the pears are cooked. If there is too much syrup you can always remove some with a turkey baster. You’ll find a use for it. Like, spooning it into your cakehole.  But there should be some syrup left in the pan.

the pears look like this; they caramelize more as the cake bakes.

When the pears are done, lower the heat to 350 F. Make the batter while the oven is cooling.

the cake batter:

 1 cup (5 oz) unbleached, AP flour

1 tbsp corn meal (optional, but good)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar

1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 oz) brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temp if possible (you can warm them in a bowl of warm water)

6 tbsp (3/4 stick/ 3 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (or crème fraîche, ooh la la)

1 tsp vanilla extract

5. In a medium bowl, sift together the first 4 ingredients (in green). Set aside.

6. In a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugars with the eggs, till light yellow and creamy looking. Add to this the butter, sour cream, and vanilla and beat till smooth.

7. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix gently till blended.

8. Pour the batter over the pears (rearrange the pears if necessary to ensure full pear coverage). Put the pan in the oven and bake for around 35 min., or till a cake tester comes out clean.

9. Cool 10 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the cake and invert onto a plate. Any pears that stick to the pan can be placed back onto the cake. Let cool completely and serve with vanilla ice cream, with more booze drizzled on top, or just on its own. Honestly, it doesn’t need anything else.

Enjoy! PS, my beet salad was featured on‘s Today’s Specials! crazy! Eat your heart out, Famous Chef Recipe Stealer!


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