Thanksgiving Dessert Buffet #2 – Spiced Pear Upside Down Cake

Photo Nov 26, 12 44 24 PM This dessert was featured on the November cover of Bon Appetit Magazine, and it caught my attention because it was pretty and different. Other than poached pears, I don’t think I’ve ever made a pear-based dessert. Come to think of it, pears are kind of the forgotten fruit of American baking. It seems like it’s all about the apples – apple pie, apple crisp, apple cake. Poached pears, which feels a lot more French. And fancy. (Though they are super easy, and so delicious). But interestingly, you can actually substitute pears in place of apples in many of our typical apple desserts as long as you consider the slight differences in texture, moisture and sweetness depending on the variety. Pear-dessert philosophy aside, this recipe isn’t about an apple substitution or even an American style dessert. It actually feels more European, even a bit Middle Eastern, like something you might find in a French restaurant in Tel Aviv. Not that I’ve been, but it’s what I imagine. And isn’t food somewhat about using your imagination?

For me I had some doubts about the how the cake turned out, and I don’t have photographic evidence. But I will say, it was appearing to have a slight structural failure in the center of the cake post-baking, and, when I took a core sample, it looked really underdone, despite having baked it for almost 10 minutes longer than recommended. My doubts were unfounded, though. The cake was moist, spicy, sweet, citrusy, and oh so delicious. I think it was my personal favorite of the three desserts



Spiced Pear Upside Down Cake (adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup pomegranate molasses, plus more for serving
  • 1¾ cups sugar, divided
  • 4 small ripe Bosc pears (about 1½  pounds), peeled, halved lengthwise, cored
  • 1 cup unsalted, roasted walnuts
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 cup olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Butter a 10″-diameter cake pan and line bottom with a parchment paper round; flour sides of pan.
  3. Cook orange juice, ¼ cup pomegranate molasses, ¼ cup sugar, and remaining 2 Tbsp. butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. (As you will note from the upcoming pictures, I started the syrup in a separate pot, then poured it over the pears that I placed in the skillet. This is what happens when you don’t read the recipe thoroughly. But it did not seem to make a difference.
  4. Add pears, cut side up

Photo Nov 25, 9 22 31 PM

  1. Pour the syrup over them if you started it in a separate pot like I did.

Photo Nov 25, 9 22 49 PM and cook (undisturbed) until they begin to release their juices, about 3 minutes.   Photo Nov 25, 9 36 53 PM

  1. Turn pears over and cook just until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
  2. Let cool slightly, then arrange pears, cut side down, in prepared pan.
  3. Return skillet to medium heat and cook liquid in skillet until thickened and syrupy, about 5 minutes, depending on juiciness of pears. Pour syrup over pears and freeze while you prepare the batter (this is to allow syrup to set up—don’t let it freeze solid).

Photo Nov 25, 9 48 57 PM

  1. Pulse walnuts and remaining 1½ cups flour in food processor until walnuts are finely ground. Pulse in baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.
  1. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, orange zest, and remaining 1½ cups sugar in a medium bowl until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Photo Nov 25, 9 49 13 PM

  1. Fold in dry ingredients in 2 additions, fully incorporating before adding the next addition,

Photo Nov 25, 9 51 11 PM

  1. then gradually mix in oil.

Photo Nov 25, 9 52 33 PM

  1. Pour batter over pears and smooth top.

Photo Nov 25, 9 58 27 PM

  1. Set pan on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake cake until top is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50–60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in pan, 15–20 minutes. Run knife around edges of cake to loosen and invert onto rack. Remove parchment and let cake cool completely.
  2. Drizzle cake with more pomegranate molasses just before serving.

Do Ahead: Cake can be baked 1 day ahead. Store tightly covered at room temperature.


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