Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mom's Chocolate Pear Upside Down Cake

Tradition [truh-dish-uh n] noun : 1. the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction 2. characteristic manner, method, or style

I've been struggling with this post, which is why it has taken so long to arrive in this space.  I keep sitting down to write and coming up blank.  I love this recipe, I love its origins and what it has become.  So what's the problem?  And what does that have to do with the definition of tradition that I wrote above?  Both valid questions.

The thing is, I really don't know.  I can guess, sure, but it's not clear to me yet what the block is about.  Too many things to list here, I suppose- maybe in a future post.  Probably all boiling down to life, kids, responsibilities.  You know, the stuff that distracts from really living fully.  Buuuuut...... I try not to make this blog a personal diary so much as an exploration of the thoughts that run though my day with enough frequency to make them relevant.  It's not a true confessions page though.  So lets keep it lighter, shall we?  

In the meantime I'm trying to overcome my blogging block by going back to my roots.  Which always leads me to my Mom.  Hence the nod to tradition referenced earlier.  The cake I'm offering up today is one of those cakes that I can remember her making since I was a small child.  She grabbed the recipe from a magazine long ago and it was one of those total 70s recipes.  Canned fruit, maraschino cherries, you know the kind.  She did away with the cherries from the start but pretty much stuck to the recipe otherwise.  I thought I might take it a step further (and kick tradition to the curb, if you will) and modernize it just a bit more.  So gone is the can of sugar-laden fruit; replaced instead by gently poached pears who's poaching liquid is also used to make the caramel-ly goodness that is characteristic of an upside down cake.  It's a nod to tradition without being strictly traditional.  And maybe just the thing to kick my blogging butt out of its funk.

Chocolate Pear Upside Down Cake
Makes 1 8x8 inch square or 9 inch round cake.
For the printable recipe, click here.

This update of my Mom's classic is enhanced with poached pears but its still a simple cake at heart.  If you don't have time to poach your own pears, by all means use pears canned in their juices (not in syrup!).  The recipe has pecans in the ingredient list but you won't see them in my photos because my little family doesn't appreciate them.  So I guess they're optional but really great if you have them.

For the pear topping:                   
1/4 cup (4 tbs) unsalted butter           
1/2 cup packed brown sugar               
2 tbs pear poaching liquid                

4 poached pear halves (recipe to follow)                       
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans           

For the cake:
1 1/4 cup sugar    

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour                        
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
10 tbs softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the 1/4 cup of butter and pour it into a 9 inch square cake pan.  Drizzle the corn syrup over the butter and then sprinkle the brown sugar in the pan. 

Cut the pear halves into 4 equal portion lengthwise and arrange the pieces in a sunburst pattern over the mixture in the baking pan.  Sprinkle the chopped pecans around the pears.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl (fitted to a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer with beaters attached), beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating fully between additions.  Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk in three additions.  Mix until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into the pan gently so as to disturb the pattern of the pears as little as possible.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean of batter or very wet crumbs.  Cool the cake for about 5 minutes and then run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen.  Invert the cake onto a serving platter.  Cut into squares.

Poached Pears
2 ripe but still firm pears
1 quart water
1/2 cup honey

Stir the water and honey together in a 2 quart pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium heat.  In the meantime, peel, quarter and core the pears.

When the water/honey mixture comes to a boil add the pears.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer the pears for 20-25 minutes or until the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the pears.  Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and cool making sure to reserve 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid.

Pears can be stored in the cooled poaching liquid in the refrigerator until use.

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