Friends Rebecca and Tony were here on the north coast this weekend visiting relatives and got themselves invited to dinner Sunday night. I'd already stockpiled the ingredients for this recipe, knowing I was going to bake it sometime over the holidays. So when Clay told me that our friends were coming for dinner, on a dark and rather stormy night to boot, I knew this would be a comforting finale to our meal.
This is a dessert that has it all: ease of preparation; beautiful presentation that is perfect for the holidays; an unpretentious, homey demeanor; and, it's delicious. The original recipe comes from the January 1990 Bon Appetit magazine. I have tweaked it over the years, the latest iteration being low fat/low sugar. I'll give you the full fat/full sugar ingredients first with my changes following in parentheses.
Pear Cranberry Ginger Upsidedown Cake
1/2 stick unsalted butter (1/4 cup Smart Balance butter substitute for baking, not the "Lite" stuff) 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (1/3 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend) 6 canned pear halves, carefully rinsed and drained, keep whole 1 1/2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped (if frozen, do not thaw)
1 1/2 cups cake flour 1 teaspoon ground cardamom 3/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt (do not use salt if using the Smart Balance)
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (9 tablespoons Smart Balance) 3/4 cup sugar (1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup Splenda Sugar Blend, or 3/4 cup Splenda) 2 large eggs (if you want to use an egg substitute here, use 1 large egg and egg substitute equal to 1 egg, approx. 1/4 cup. I think the real eggs give the cake a better texture than the substitute will.) 1/2 cup non-fat sour cream (I have also used non-fat plain yogurt, but make sure it's firm) 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped
Melt the 1/2 stick butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Add the brown sugar and stir until it dissolves. It will still be grainy, so don't overdo it thinking it will turn to a clear liquid, it won't. Remove from the heat and arrange the pears in the skillet, round side down with tips pointing to the center in a spoke fashion. Use any small pieces of pear to make a center hub. Sprinkle the cranberries around and between the pears. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, cardamom, baking powder and soda, and salt in a bowl to blend. In an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. If you are using Smart Balance, this does not do the "light and fluffy" thing that butter does, but comes close. Beat in the eggs, then the sour cream and ginger. Mix in the dry ingredients.
Spread the batter carefully over the pears and cranberries, covering the fruits completely. Lightly tap the bottom of the skillet on a hard surface to settle the batter at bit. Not too much, though. Bake in a 350-degree oven until a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Watch that the sides and bottom do not burn. Cool in the pan 10 minutes and then invert onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Go ahead, gild the lily with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. It's the holidays after all!