Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake

It is absolutely true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This old dog went all Pavlov when she saw a recipe for a pear upside-down cake rather than the more usual pineapple upside-down cake. She completely ignored that (1) the recipe was featured in the New York Times and (2) not a single recipe from that illustrious publication has ever worked for her. And do you know why she ignored past experience? Because (everyone say it with me) this time it will be different.

Except that it wasn’t. Making matters worse, the fallout from this disaster may have adverse consequences on Thanksgiving. I am keeping my paws fingers crossed.

I am unsure of the variety of pears that I purchased. They weren’t labeled. They were, however, the biggest darn pears that I have ever seen. I bought four as specified in the recipe, but only needed half that many to affect the overlapping circle on the top of the cake.

Cooking the maple syrup and brown sugar topping was not a problem. While it was cooling, I made the cake batter. Which, when finished, bore a striking resemblance to BisQuick. My problems began when I poured the brown sugar maple syrup mixture into the cake pan. It seemed like a lot. But I forged ahead confident that the chefs behind the recipe in their infinite wisdom, knew what they were doing.

Pear slices were arranged in an attractive circle, batter was spooned into the pan and then carefully spread to cover the pears. The pan was slid into the oven and the timer set for 45 minutes. The trouble began at the twenty minute mark when the first eruption of brown sugar/maple syrup escaped from the pan and landed on the bottom of the oven where it sizzled into a sticky, blackened mess. As the minutes ticked by, the eruptions grew more frequent, the sizzling almost constant. Thirty minutes in, smoke was billowing out of the stove as the boiling mixture intended as a delicate syrup for the pears turned my oven into a bubbling cauldron of burning sugar.

I made the decision to remove the cake early rather than risk burning down my house. Repeat after me: The motto of the New York Times is “All The News That’s Fit to Print” NOT “All The Recipes Fit to Print”. If there is any doubt in your mind, I invite you to take a look into my blackened and still smoking oven.

Normally, my oven is pretty clean. Clean enough that I feel confident in baking my Thanksgiving pies and breads and then roasting the turkey. The following day, while everyone else is out bargain-hunting, I am on my knees in the kitchen cleaning my oven sure in the knowledge that I won’t need to clean it again until after the Christmas roast beef.

This year, thanks to the New York Times (note to self: “All The NEWS That’s Fit to Print”), I will be cleaning my oven twice in one week. No matter how carefully I rinse, it always smells of oven cleaner afterwards which leads me to wonder how that acrid aroma will affect the turkey.

In case you’re still wondering, the much maligned Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake was delicious. I will be making it again, but with a lot less brown sugar and maple syrup and definitely not a few days before Thanksgiving.

Verdict: Needs a Do-Over

Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake
(source: The New York Times, November 11, 2009)

11 tablespoons butter
¾ cup maple syrup
¼ cup packed brown sugar
3 to 4 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat; add maple syrup and brown sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for another 2 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. When mixture has cooled a bit, pour it into a 9-inch baking pan and arrange pear slices n an overlapping circle on top.

With a handheld or standing mixer, beat remaining 8 tablespoons butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time, continuing to mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with milk; do not overmix. Carefully spread batter over pears, using a spatula to make sure it is evenly distributed. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 45 to 50 minutes; a toothpick inserted into center should come out clean. Let cake cool for 5 minutes.

Run a knife around edge of pan; put a plate on top of cake and carefully flip it so plate is on bottom and pan is on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Recycle: maple syrup bottle, vanilla bottle

Compost: pear peels and cores, eggshells

1 comment:

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