Sticky Sweet: Gluten-free Pear and Caramel Upside Down Cake
This cake is result of two things: necessity - I really needed to use up some pears, and practicality - I had all of the things to make this cake in my house. Score.
Initially, I started conceptualizing this as a mini pear tart or perhaps a pear cupcake. Now, don't get me wrong - pear tarts and cupcakes are always delicious in my book - but then I thought about cake. No one really makes cake anymore! Cupcakes and mini-pies are all the rage. But what about cake? Oh, sure people make fancy layer cakes with fondant (which I personally am not a fan of) and beautiful designs - but does what about sticky, sweet, moist cake that is simply delicious? And then a vision popped into my brain - upside down cake. I love upside cake. My mom used to make me pineapple upside down cake all the time and they were the best upside down cakes ever. Upside down cakes are nostalgic and comforting to me - they're not pretentious like a delicate genoise and they're not fancy like eight-layer red velvet cake. No, upside down cakes are simple, rustic, and above all, delicious.
I think people need simplistic comfort now with all that is happening in the world. The tragedy in Japan is beyond comprehension, my heart breaks a little more each time I read a news story about what is going on over there. The fact that Charlie Sheen gets more press coverage than people who have lost everything speaks volume about society. That fact alone is discouraging enough. Rather than being discouraged though, we should use that energy to be kind, to donate, to give to people who do not have the luxury of a roof over their head. Check out these websites: Run for Japan, Nike "Donate Japan"Challenge, and National Bakesale for Japan I think all of these are awesome; I will personally be doing a "Run for Japan" run and may also participate in a small Bakesale for Japan.
Some days, it is important to savor the simple things - like memories of cake, the vegetables growing outside, and the people you love. And to savor those things by doing what you love, for the people you love - in my case, baking a cake.
I was really determined to make an upside down cake with whatever I had in my house because 1.) My bank account is sad, 2.) I need to be home with the pup today since she just had surgery (a mass was removed from her ear), and 3.) I had waaay too many things to get done to spend time wandering around Whole Foods. My goal: no quick grocery store runs, no need to change out of my slippers (which I actually accidentally wore to go pick up my pup from the vet - oops), and no laundry list of ingredients.
I assessed my pantry and g-free flour mix stash to find that my mix supply was depleted thanks to an unsuccessful vegan cupcake incident (so close! that day was a freak baking day). I had flours but not starch so making more mix was out of the question. Then I remember I had almond flour - one of the only g-free flours that can completely stand alone and one of my personal favorites. Cue angelic ooooohs. With that discovery, I decided to make a traditional flourless almond cake. This cake is based on Italian almond cake, the Italians love almonds and use them quite frequently in traditional baking. It's amazing what you can find out there that is naturally gluten-free! I really adore this cake and will be making it many, many times in the future.
Be warned - this cake is very sweet! Caramel is a main component after all. The cake itself has a very moist texture and is not smooth - it's almost like crumb cake. I recommend serving it with some delicious vanilla bean ice cream or with a dollop of nutmeg scented whip cream.
This cake would also be delicious on its own (without the pears and caramel). I think it would be wonderful with some berry compote in the summer or some delicious orchard apples in the fall. Yum. This cake could also be served with a delicate lemon glaze for an event where floral dresses and tea is involved. Or you can eat it standing on your deck, taking in the sunshine, watching your dog chase squirrels. Or maybe nibble a smallish sliver for breakfast with your coffee. The possibilities are endless.
Gluten-free Pear and Caramel Upside Down Cake
cake recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
For the caramel:
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup water
For the cake:
1 large pear, thinly sliced (or other any other fruit you like!)
140g almond flour/meal
8 Tbsp sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated
zest of 1 small lemon
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375F.
Butter your springform pan (or a cake pan with 1/2 inch sides). Be sure to butter liberally so the cake doesn't stick!
1. Make your caramel: whisk together brown sugar and water in a pan over medium-high heat , when sugar mixture has boiled for a minute or so, turn off heat, and carefully whisk in butter. Set aside.
2. Thinly slice your pears.
3. Combine almond meal/flour and 2 Tbsp of sugar in a bowl.
4. In a separate medium bowl, combine egg yolks, 2 Tbsp sugar, salt, and lemon zest and beat with mixer (or a whisk and some bicep power) until thicky and creamy, about 1-2 minutes.
5. Whip egg whites with an electric mixer or stand mixer with very clean beaters, until stiff but not dry. Gradually add in 4 Tbsp sugar during the whipping process.
At this point you should have a set up something like this...
5. Add almond mixture to egg yolk mixture and mix to combine.
6. Add in a dollop of the egg whites to the combined yolk + almond mixture and gently fold in until fully incorporated.
7. Gradually fold in the remaining egg whites.
8. Pour caramel on the bottom of the springform pan - make sure it hasn't hardened! If it did, gently heat it back up and then pour into pan.
9. Place pear slices on caramel. You can be decorative and attempt to make a rose - like I did. Clearly, I need to work on this.
10. Add cake batter to the pan. Make sure it is spread evenly.
11. Bake in 375F oven for 20-25 minutes until toothpick in center comes out clean.
Let the cake completely cool before you attempt to flip it over! This is important because the cake will be very light at first then becomes a bit more sturdy as it cools.
To flip: Place a plate on top of the cake pan and gently flip upside down. Tap the bottom with a spoon if needed to help loosen the bottom of the cake.
Grab fork and eat with abandon.