Sunday, November 20, 2011

pear and fennel seed upside-down cake

This has been the week of cooking and baking failures. I swear, I have tried the pear and fennel seed combination in four (yes, FOUR) different recipes this week because I had so much faith in it. The first three were colossal flops. 

The original was a pear and fennel seed tarte tatin, which I adapted from Joy the Baker's apple tarte tatin. It came out WAY too saucy because, well, pears have more juice than apples. So... disaster. Recipe two was a modified version of said tarte with less butter and sugar in the topping. When I overturned my pan, the puff pastry fell out, but the pears didn't.

Enter the idea of upside-down cake. I altered Mark Bittman's well-loved recipe for plum and rosemary upside down cake, however, it came out dry and heavy. Fail. Last attempt.. I dug out an old recipe from for a peach upside down cake that I used to make all the time. I modified it into a shadow of it's former self. Thanks to a more modest amount of flour and a full cup and a half of butter, it was a success. So buttery and good, pears were tender and the whole thing had a subtle hint of fennel seed. A match made in heaven!

pear and fennel seed upside-down cake

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (lightly packed) brown sugar
5 pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
1 teaspoon fennel seed, pulverized in a mortar and pestle (or otherwise ground)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fennel seed, pulverized in a mortar and pestle (or otherwise ground)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
  • Topping: Toss pear wedges with fennel seed.
  • In a cast iron pan, melt butter over medium-low heat and generously grease the sides of the pan. Whisk in brown sugar until dissolved. Arrange pears in a circular design inside the pan and remove from heat.
  • Cake: Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, fennel seed and salt. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring well. Mix in milk.
  • Make a well in the dry ingredients then add the wet. Stir gently until no flour patches remain, but do not overdo the mixing. Your batter will be a little bit lumpy.
  • Gently spoon the batter over the pears in the pan, then spread evenly with a spatula.
  • Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow cake to sit for five minutes (and only five minutes, to keep the pears from staying in the pan!).
  • Flip your cake onto a plate and serve with unsweetened whipped cream.

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