Monthly Archives: March 2012

Upside Down Pear Ginger Cake

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.


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Gooey Butter Cake Bars

So I don’t often bake in my own kitchen. I adore my apartment, and the kitchen is perfect for every-day cooking, but when it comes to baking three-layer cakes, it just doesn’t have the counter space.


Or a dishwasher for that matter (but note the love of my life my Kitchenaid 600 series in red, 6 quart bowl, 590 horsepower… Perfect).

I do most of my baking at the home of a close-friend who has graciously offered me the use of her two (yes TWO!!) ovens, and giant kitchen island whenever I need it. In exchange I leave her house smelling like cake, and occasionally bake for her family as well (ok, it isn’t so occasional, it’s like a weekly thing…)

But last week I went to a friend’s for dinner, and casually offered to bake dessert, without planning ahead, or thinking about the actual amount of time I had that afternoon. Turns out, it wasn’t enough time for me to drive to and from my friend’s, workout, shower, change, and drive over to the east bay where my friend’s dinner was. Especially in rush hour traffic.

I know, I know. First-world-problems.

So I scoured the internet for easy, quick, delicious bar recipes, and stumbled across a recipe that’s been on my to-bake list for over a year.


Gooey butter-cake bars. I believe this recipe has southern origins in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m also fairly certain Paula Dean originally made it famous. It’s called butter cake after all. This particular version comes from the Momofuku Milk Bar book, which tweaks the original a bit to make the centre a touch gooey-er. It’s a good thing. Trust me.

It’s a recipe that I wouldn’t normally make. The base is boxed yellow cake, and I don’t typically believe in using boxed mixes. Half the joy of baking for me comes from carefully measuring ingredients and knowing that I made it from scratch. But I was afraid to mess with what everyone else seemed to say was perfection. Furthermore I was running out of time, and fast. So I ran to the store and bought a box of yellow cake mix, a bag of powdered sugar, and a block of cream cheese. I didn’t need to buy butter because my fridge currently looks like this:


Send help, in the form of butter-heavy recipes please. Except I’m not sure I need that much help finding recipes that overuse butter. Please note the name of this blog.


To the cake mix I added a single egg and a melted stick of butter, then I pressed it into the bottom of a parchment lined 8 by 8 baking dish.


The powered sugar was beaten with the block of cream cheese, two more eggs, and a teaspoon of vanilla until smooth, then poured on top of the base.


The whole thing was in the oven within 15 minutes, and baked for 52. The recipe said 40-45, but my oven is a gas oven and while I do have an oven thermometer I think it tends to run a bit cold. Regardless, 52 minutes was perfect. The centre was a touch jiggly but it set beautifully so that when I cut into it later that evening it held together yet remained perfectly gooey. The edges were golden brown and slightly crispy on top. We spent some time debating which was better: the centre pieces or the edge pieces. The results were unconclusive. I’ll probably have to make it again so we can come to some kind of agreement…

The top was slightly flakey, the bottom just soft enough to differentiate from the filling. I may be a convert to boxed cake mix in certain situations.

I would’ve taken a picture of the inside… But I forgot to pull out my camera. It was one of those great nights with lots of friends, some wine, some beer, laughter, and great food. So you’ll have to trust me: these were outstanding.

Gooey Butter Cake Bars

Makes about 64 1-inch squares, feeds much fewer than 64 people, good luck stopping at one square.


1 Box yellow cake mix

3 Eggs

1 stick (1/2 cup, 4 ounces) of unsalted butter, melted

1 block (8 ounces) of cream cheese, softened

1lb (one bag) of powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line an 8 by 8 pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang. This will make the bars a snap to remove and cut.

2. In a medium bowl melt the butter in the microwave. Then mix, using a wooden spoon with cake mix, and one egg until mixture is uniform. Press into bottom of prepared pan.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together powdered sugar, remaining two eggs, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and uniform. Pour over the base and spread to the edge using a rubber spatula.

4. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is lightly brown and still slightly jiggly – similar to a cheesecake. Let cool COMPLETELY before slicing into 1inch squares using a sharp knife.

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