Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Pear and ginger upside-down cake

We all have favourite places.  Places we return to again and again because they make us feel inspired, or comforted, or even just plain old happy.  Macrina Bakery in Seattle is one of these places for meThough there are three stores now, the original, down on 1st Ave is the one I head for like a homing pigeon whenever I find myself in town. I've clocked countless hours there having breakfast, coffee (well, never just coffee) or lunch with people I love, or by myself either staring out the window or writing postcards at their chrysanthemum adorned tables

A couple of years ago, Macrina published a cookbook, generously sharing their recipes, and making it possible for those of us who live far, far away and can't just pop in as much as they might like to, to have a little piece of our favourite place right here in our kitchen.

You can make this with whatever seasonal fruit is to hand - apples, nectarines, plums - but I particularly like the silkiness of the pear against the chewy crumb of the cake.  With its caramel crown and dark, brooding beauty, it looks far more high maintenance than it actually is.  It comes together quickly and is eaten just as fast.

Pear and ginger upside-down cake
Adapted from Leslie Mackie's Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook

I often halve this recipe (if I've got small eggs I use two or if large, just one) and bake it in a slightly smaller tinThe cooking time is diminished significantly - for an 8 inch tin, it takes somewhere between 45 minutes - 1 hour.

I like to serve this with a fat dollop of cream, but of course it's very good just on its own.

For the topping
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
4-5 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered lengthwise

For the batter
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons peeled, grated ginger
3 eggs
2/3 cup molasses (treacle works well too)
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (don't forget you can make your own)

Preheat oven to 325 deg F / 160 deg C.  Grease a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with a 10 inch circle of parchment paper.

Preparing the topping
  • In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Melt butter over medium heat for about 1 minute, then pour into the springform pan, completely coating the parchment paper.  Place the quartered pears on top of the butter and sugar mixture (fanning them in a decorative circle), lining the pieces up tightly so that none of the pan's bottom shows through. Set pan in centre of a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Preparing the batter
  • Cut butter into pieces and place in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add brown sugar and, using the paddle attachment, cream the mixture on medium speed for 5-8 minutes.  Butter will become smooth and pale in colour.  Add the grated ginger and mix for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Switch to low speed and add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding another.  After the last egg has been added, slowly pour in molasses or treacle and continue mixing until fully distributed.  The mixture will look like it's breaking up, but don't panic, it will come together after the dry ingredients are added.  Remove bowl from stand mixer. 
  • Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a separate medium bowl, and toss together with your hands.
  • Alternately add small amounts of the flour mixutre and buttermilk to the batter, mixing with a rubber spatula just until all of the dry ingedients are absorbed.  Take care not to overmix.  Pour batter into the pear-lined springform pan, filling it to just below the top.  If necessary, use a rubber spatula to smooth out the surface.
  • Carefully transfer the baking sheet to the centre rack of the oven and bake for just under 2 hours, or until golden brown.  Test centre with a skewer.  It will come out clean when the cake is finished.   Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Cover the pan with a serving plate, then carefully turn it over.  Release the sides of the pan, gently lift the pan's base off the cake and peel away the parchment paper. 

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