Maple Pear Upside-down Cake

November 15, 2009


Cakes, Dough & Desserts, Fall, Local Eating, Recipes, Seasons, Winter

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I have a conflicted relationship with Mark Bittman. Not because I’m jealous of anyone who can actually make a solid living cooking and writing about it, no, no no, certainly I would never hold someone in contempt for that. But what I would hold against someone is writing a cookbook called “How to Cook EVERYTHING,” and failing to include a recipe for carrot cake. Well as I mentioned previously, carrot cake certainly counts as something to me. A pretty important something, actually, in the world of cooking.


Anyway,  a couple of Septembers ago—trying to prepare for Lily’s birthday—I was deeply disappointed by the hole in Bittman’s big, yellow book. To comfort myself, I made some of the author’s oatmeal cookies, a few pages away from where the carrot cake recipe should have been. Perhaps I was just too incredulous to read the recipe properly, but by the end of the evening, all I could think was, “Why the h-e-double-hockey-stick does this man not have an editor?!” The cookies were so bad, I had to crumble them into granola. And it wasn’t even that delicious.

Well, I was skeptical on Wednesday when I came upon the dining section and spied a good looking recipe by a man who I have scorned since last summer. I haven’t made anything of his, tempted though I’ve been: none of the Minimalist’s 100 Salads, no veggie flatbreads, no coddled strawberries. Last Wednesday changed things, though: not just because I found a delicious new cake, but because I can finally trust Mark Bittman in a way I’ve always dreamed of. Flatbread here I come.


The kettle was shrieking as I plodded groggily from the front yard to the kitchen to attend to tea, breakfast and some morning news. I filled my cup, arranged my cereal and made it back to the kitchen table for my favorite Times section of the week. The pages flopped open, exposing none other than a beautiful upside-down cake by none other than the Minmalist, aka my baking nemesis.

Damn. I could either forgo the cake in my stubborn prejudices, or give Bittman another chance. But as it happened, I had 4 aging pears in my crisper, a beautiful bottle of Vermont maple syrup leftover from the wedding, and a terrible sweet tooth. I decided to be the bigger person, and not let a grudge get between me and good food.


In the process of making this cake, I learned not only how to bake a terrific upside-down cake, but also how to make maple caramel and how to make the most glorious cake batter I’ve ever tasted. The caramel was a deep, smooth amber, sweet and smoky and perfect and the batter shone like a pearl—I guess enough butter, sugar and milk will do that. Either way, the whole thing was glorious. I am so happy to put this one-sided rivalry behind me. I have a feeling I’ll be Bitten again soon.

Maple Pear Upside-down Cake

11 tablespoons butter at room temperature
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9” cake pan, careful to coat the edges.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

In another bowl, beat 8 tbsp butter and white sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, along with vanilla.

Without overmixing, add dry ingredients to wet in three batches, alternating with milk.

Working quickly (you don’t want the batter to sit too long), bring 3 tbsp butter, maple syrup and brown sugar to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring once at the very beginning to ensure that sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside.

When caramel has cooled slightly, pour into the bottom of the cake pan. Arrange pear slices in an overlapping circle on top of the caramel, and pour batter over fruit, spreading gently with a spatula for equal cover.

Bake about 45-50 minutes. Allow cake to cool a bit before sliding a blade around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake from the edge. Place a large plate on top of the pan and flip so that the pan is on top and the plate is on the bottom. Remove baking dish and voila!

Makes a great breakfast.

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