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Flip for a spiced pear cake this fall

Recipe: Upside-down treat is baked in a skillet

Fresh Bartlett pears are the stars of a skillet-baked upside-down cake.

Fresh Bartlett pears are the stars of a skillet-baked upside-down cake.

Kathy Morrison

Slice of pear cake on a plate
A slice of pear cake is ideal for brunch.

Apples and pumpkins rightfully are hailed as the flavors of autumn, but for me fall is all about pears. They work in so many types of recipes, savory as well as sweet. (Most indulgent such dish I’ve ever had: Dungeness crab and pears with fresh pasta in a white wine sauce. OMG).

This upside-down cake is my fall variation of a popular New York Times recipe by Melissa Clark. I recommend ripe but still-firm pears. If you can find Bartletts that are at that stage, go for it. Bartletts are perfect for about 5 minutes, so move fast. Bosc or Comice pears are other good choices, but they must be peeled; the peeling of Bartletts is optional. 

Choose the spice that you prefer. I like cardamom with pears, but cinnamon or allspice also would be excellent.

A Bartlett pear with a peeler pulling off a slice of skin
Peel Bartletts or not, as you wish.

If you don’t have a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, bake the cake in the heaviest baking dish or pan you have of comparable size. Caramelize the butter, brown sugar, lemon juice and salt in a small saucepan in place of the skillet, then transfer it to the baking pan before combining with the fruit.

Upside-down pear skillet cake

Serves 6-8


Fruit topping:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

⅓ cup brown sugar

1-½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice (be sure to zest the lemon first; see below)

¼ teaspoon sea salt

3 or 4 ripe but firm pears, peeled if desired, cored and sliced thin

Pear slices in a skillet
Arrange the caramel-covered fruit in the skillet.


½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 large eggs, room temperature

½ cup plain whole-milk yogurt or sour cream

1-½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon sea salt

¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cardamom or other favorite spice

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1-½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour


Very brown  cake in a skillet
The cake should be quite brown when done.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the topping, melt the butter over medium heat in an oven-safe 10-inch skillet, such as a cast-iron skillet. Add the brown sugar, lemon juice and salt, and whisk or stir until the brown sugar melts, 1 minute or so.

While whisking constantly, allow the sugar mixture to cook until it begins to smell like caramel and darkens slightly, about 1 minutes longer. Be sure to stay at the stove — sugar easily burns. The mixture may clump or separate but that’s normal.

Add the pear slices and gently stir to coat them with the caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and arrange the fruit in the desired pattern in a single layer on the bottom of the skillet. Any sugar clumps will dissolve during baking.

To make the cake batter: In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla and lemon zest until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the yogurt or sour cream. One at a time, add the baking powder, the salt, the cardamom or chosen spice and the baking soda, stirring well after each ingredient.

Finally, gently fold in the flour. Don’t overmix: lumps are OK. Pour the batter over the fruit in the skillet and gently spread it evenly using a spatula.

Bake in the middle of the oven until the surface is deeply brown and the fruit is lightly bubbling along the edges, about 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan after about 20 minutes. Use the toothpick test to determine doneness; with all the fruit at the bottom, this cake needs to be completely done in the middle.

Remove the skillet to a cooling rack and run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake. (This step may not be necessary, with all the butter in the batter, but it’s a good idea to do it anyway.)

Baked pear cake on a plate
At the right temperature, invert the cake on a plate.

Allow the cake to sit in the pan for 10-15 minutes to cool slightly; too much more cooling time will make it difficult to flip the cake properly. 

Cover the pan with your chosen serving plate or platter and carefully invert the cake onto it. If some of the fruit sticks to the bottom of the skillet, gently remove it with a spatula and place back on the cake.

Let cake cool at least 30 minutes before serving. It’s best enjoyed on the day it’s baked, but leftovers can be reheated.


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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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