pear upside-down cake

I have a tendency to obsess over things. Like vintage goodies (i.e. tiny Japanese elves), music, movies, restaurants, and an amazing pair of shoes every now and then just to name a few. I fixate until said object of obsession finally decides to leave my system, or another takes its place.

One of my most recent obsessions has been with pears. While shopping for a photo shoot I came across the most gorgeous red Anjous and have been stuck on pears ever since. I just cannot get over their quiet elegance (don’t Boscs look as though they’ve been cast in bronze?), how perfectly sweet and juicy they can be, and all of their variations.

To liberate myself from this little obsession I knew I needed to find a stellar pear recipe; one that showcased the fruit but still felt like dessert. Though I was tempted by all of the classic pear tart recipes I found, I abstained. I needed something a little different. And then appeared this caramelized pear upside-down cake. Caramel, pears and cake?!! All in one place? It was an easy sell.

There is something so rewarding about making an upside-down cake. Perhaps its the anticipation of the “upsidedownness” properly releasing itself from the pan and achieving just the right caramelization. Or maybe it’s just that they are plain delicious. The cake, although requires some prep work and a small handful of steps, is actually quite easy to make and well worth the labor. Since December I have made it on four separate occasions, and fall in love each time. It’s extremely moist and has an incredible caramel flavor. And it’s really quite handsome, if I do say so myself.  Perfect alone, with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, or à la mode.

caramelized pear upside-down cake

from Fine Cooking

serves 8

basic caramel

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup cold water

In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine sugar, lemon juice and water. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash away any sugar crystals on the side of the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture starts to color around the edges, 5-10 minutes.  Gently swirl the pan to even out the color and to prevent the sugar from burning. Continue to cook until the sugar turns medium amber. Watch sugar closely as this will happen pretty quickly.

2 medium firm-ripe Bosc Pears

1 Recipe Basic Caramel

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, plus extra for pans

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350°f. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×2-inch round cake pan and line with a round of parchment. Butter the top of the parchment.

Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan in a circle, overlapping slightly with the pointed ends towards the center.

Make the basic caramel. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the 4 tablespoons of butter, one piece at a time, until they are completely melted. Carefully pour the hot caramel evenly over the pears. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir to combine. Combine milk and vanilla in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium and slowly add the brown sugar. Increase speed to high and mix until lightened in color and texture, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add eggs one at a time until well incorporated.

Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture and milk alternately in five additions, beginning and ending with flour. Mix each addition until just incorporated, avoiding overmixing. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix briefly to blend well.

Spoon the batter in large dollops over the pears and smooth it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn a cake plate upside down on top of the cake pan and carefully invert the cake pan onto the plate.

celery root soup

It has been unusually cold in my neck of the woods this winter, and all I want to do is lay in bed with my hot water bottle (because I’m secretly an 80 year old man) and look at cookbooks. And eat everything. All the time. I’ve been craving belly warming things, like stews and soups and hot beverages. Luckily for me, the holidays left behind a few ham bones, which made excellent split pea soup, and turkey carcasses so there have been several soup du jour at my house over the last few weeks.

Since someone has been in lazybones mode lately, a result of December being the crazy busy month that it was, I only want to make things that require little effort/minimal dish washing and soup seems to fit the bill very nicely. I’ve been really into creamy vegetable soups that don’t actually involve a whole lot of heavy cream so I decided it was time for a celery root soup, which I’d been dying to make for weeks.

This recipe immediately caught my eye because it starts off with a little fried bacon, followed by leeks sauteed in the reserved bacon fat. I am a firm believer that bacon makes everything better (I recently met a very lovely young man who was sure he won the heart of his partner with homemade bacon infused bourbon) and I’m pretty sure that that philosophy applies to this soup. The smokiness of the bacon gives it this extra bit of flavor that might be lacking otherwise, and the crispy bacon garnish adds just the right amount of texture. It’s one of those soups that you just can’t wait to go home and eat, especially on a cold day.

celery root soup with bacon

adapted from Gourmet

serves 4

3 medium leeks (3/4 lb), white and pale green parts only

3 bacon slices or 1 tablespoon butter if omitting bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 lb celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 cups water

1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/3 cup inner celery leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup half-and-half

Halve leeks lengthwise, then coarsely chop. Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water, agitating them, then lift out onto paper towels and pat dry.

Cook bacon in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Reserve 2 teaspoons of fat from the bacon, then add oil and cook leeks over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add celery root and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add water and broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until celery root is very tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

Purée soup in batches in a blender  or food processor until smooth. Return soup to cleaned pot. If soup is too thick, thin with 1/2 to 3/4 cup water. Stir in salt, pepper, and half-and-half and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until warm. Top with chopped celery leaves and coarsely crumbled bacon.