I used to think unmolding a jello mold was scary. But when I began making and inverting upside down cakes, I learned what real fear in the kitchen is. Ok, it may not be like skiing down an advanced run your second time on the slopes, but if holding your breath and praying counts, then turning out an upside down cake is a little scary. But when you slowly lift up that cake pan and out slips a cake with perfectly sliced caramelized fruit around the top, the quivering quickly turns into exultation.
This may be a little on the dramatic side, but nothing in cooking excites me as much turning out a perfect upside down cake. And it is really easier than it sounds.
Here's the never-fail trick: Line the bottom of the cake pan with a round of parchment.
Pear Upside Down Gingerbread Cake
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons. cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 ripe, but firm Bosc pears (8 oz. each)
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup molasses
1 large egg
½ cup whole milk
Whipping cream whipped with powdered sugar and a little vanilla, until soft peaks
To make the topping, adjust oven rack in bottom 1/3 of oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Pour melted butter onto the bottom and swirl to coat evenly. In a small bowl, stir the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt together and sprinkle evenly over the butter.
Peel, halve and core pears. Reserve smallest pear half for center. Cut 5 pears halves into 4 wedges each. Arrange pears in a circular pattern around cake pan with tapered ends pointing inward. Cut reserved pear into a circle to fit in the center, rounded side down.
To make the cake, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the molasses and mix until smooth. Mix in the egg, scraping sides of bowl once. Reduce the speed to medium low and alternately incorporate the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the four, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth. Pour the batter over the pears and spread evenly.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until top is very deeply browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool on rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully run small knife or offset spatula around sides of pan. Invert cake onto a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.
Cool at least 2 hours. Transfer to a platter, cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Cake is best served the day it is made. Leftovers may be refrigerated covered and reheated until warm.
Makes 6 generous servings.