Around this time of year, there's so much attention given to pumpkins and apples, that pears tend to get neglected. I know that I'm definitely guilty of it and I think that partly it's because it can be hard to find a really good pear and partly because pears are a quiet, non-flashy fruit. I mean really, between a pear and a pumpkin, there's no contest in the color department. But if you can tear yourself away from the allure of the orange color for just a bit and can find some sweet ripe pears, you should really make the time for this easy and homey wonderful Maple Walnut Pear Cake. It absolutely captures the spirit of fall!!
Growing up I never really liked pears. I think that's because I never had a really good one. Then, about twenty years ago, my in-laws received a box of premium pears as a gift and gave us a few. After my first bite, I was madly in love!! These pears were meltingly sweet and run-down-your-arms juicy, off-the charts perfect! All of sudden I was all about pears--going pear-picking, tasting the different varieties, baking and cooking with them...I couldn't wait for pear season to start. Now, I always try to make at least one pear treat each autumn and this is one that sandwiches juicy pears between a layer of moist spiced cake and maple syrup-coated walnuts. Definitely worth waiting for.
You start by making a brown sugar/maple syrup mixture into which a generous amount of toasted walnuts are pressed into.
Next, you layer thin slices of pear on top of the mixture--
And top with the cake batter.
Once the cake comes out of the oven and has cooled a bit, you invert the whole thing so that the bottom becomes the top and there's a caramelized, gooey, nutty, maple-y syrup layer staring up at you, begging to be devoured!
In addition to the topping, the cake itself is full of cinnamon flavor. With each bite you get the amazing combo of moist cake, crunchy sweet topping and juicy pears. Perfection! It's wonderful on it's own--
But if you top it with some fresh whipped cream, especially while it's still warm, people will love you forever!! So watch out, apples and pumpkins, the pear is in the room!!
Maple Walnut Pear Cake
Makes 10-12 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes; Bake Time: 50 minutes
For the Maple Nut Topping
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 3 ripe but still firm Bosc pears (or any other variety), peeled, quartered and cored and cut into 1/4 inch slices
For the Cake
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
- Whipped cream or ice cream for topping (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
2. To make the topping: Place the maple syrup and brown sugar in a 9-inch round cake pan. Stir together briefly, then put the pan directly on a burner set to low heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Simmer for about 1 minute, stirring often. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the walnuts evenly around the pan and lightly press them down. Arrange the pear slices in concentric overlapping circles (it doesn't matter if they're not perfect) and set aside.
3. To make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
4. In the large bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment or a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Slowly mix in half of the flour mixture. On low speed, mix in the milk and then the rest of the flour mixture, just until combined.
5. Pour the batter over the pears in the pan and smooth the top out so it's even. Bake for about 50 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 20 minutes.
6. Use a small thin knife to run around the edges to help loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Then top the cake with a large serving platter and invert the entire thing so that the bottom of the cake is now the top. Remove the pan carefully. If any walnuts stick to the pan, place them back onto the cake.
7. The cake is best served warm as is or with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream (although I have to say that my husband loves this cold too)
8. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days and eaten as is or reheated covered in aluminum foil in a low oven or heat slices in the microwave.
Note: Recipe adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz.