So by nature I’m a bit of a rule follower. I’m positive it’s why I love to bake. Baking is all about rules. It is about butter to flour to sugar to egg ratios. It’s about balancing fats and liquids, and beating for the right amount of time to ensure a tender crumb, delicate flavours, and fluffy texture.
I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t often mess with recipes. I know I can execute well, so why mess with a recipe I already know will turn out?
But sometimes, strawberries are out of season, and I don’t feel like investing 10$ in a jar of cardamom when my spice cabinet is already overflowing. Seriously, if anyone has clever spice organization tips, I’m all ears. I can’t find ANYTHING in there.
See, here’s what happened: Friday night I was invited to dinner at the home of one of my oldest family friends. Having run into them at a birthday party the week before where I had made one of my favourite cakes – Orange-Ginger Carrot Cake with White Chocolate Almond frosting (it went un-pictured, I’m sorry, but the original post on it is way better than what I could come up with, and being a rule follower I made no changes to the recipe), they knew I could bake. When their daughter confirmed she was in for dinner, I knew I was making dessert.
My original plan for an elaborate layer cake fell through when my Friday suddenly filled up with errands and obligations, so I turned to one of my favourite, no fail and very speedy recipes: Joy the Baker’s famous upside-down strawberry cake with cardamom. It’s one of those fabulous recipes that takes 25 minutes to get into the oven and turns out perfectly Every. Single. Time.
Except I couldn’t find strawberries at the nearby grocery store, and I had a good parking spot. Good parking spots are worth more than gold in my neighbourhood, so there was no way I was moving my car to go buy some strawberries. Especially when I didn’t feel like spending money on cardamom.
But they did have pears, and I do have several containers of dried ginger (the reason being that I always think I’m out. Messy spice cabinet = I have no idea what I own). So I tweaked a little.
And because the recipe always comes out perfectly, it worked.
The cake was fluffy, tender, and impossibly moist. The butter and brown sugar caramelized with the pears to create that delicious oozing caramel you see pictured above. I even impressed myself with my ability to properly guess that a 3/4 teaspoon of ginger and a teaspoon of cinnamon would give the cake that perfect spiced flavour. I could’ve really turned it into a spice cake by adding some molasses, but then I would have been messing with the baking holy-grail: the wet:dry ratio, and I feel like I’m just not ready for that yet.
Upside Down Pear Ginger Cake (adapted from Joy the Baker)
For the toping:
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 pears, sliced thinly
For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks
2/3 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cups sour cream
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a 9-inch cake pan place butter, and then put the pan into the oven. When putter is melted remove pan, swirl butter up the sides of the pan to coat it, then set aside.
3. In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl and add the egg and vanilla, beat until combined, about one minute.
5. Scrape down the bowl and add the dry ingredients, mixing on low while adding the sour cream until just combined. Give it one or two final turns, gently with a rubber spatula. Over-mixing will ruin this cake, so just go until the batter is uniform. It will be quite thick, that’s ok.
6. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the melted butter in the cake pan, and then lay out the pear slices.
7. Pour the batter over the fruit, spreading to the edges with a spatula. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes away clean or with just a few crumbs. Another good test is to lightly push the middle of the cake down, if it springs back, you’re good to go.
8. Let the cake cool for about ten minutes before running a knife along the edges to loosen it up, and then turn it out onto a cake platter. It should loosen quite easily, but if it doesn’t tap the bottom of the cake pan a few times until it comes free.