Auros (auros) wrote,

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Pear Upside Down Coffee Cake

Adapted from a recipe Elizabeth Falkner created for Harry & David.

We replaced the crunchy-sugar stuff with our usual fruit crisp topping, because with the original sugar crunch the cake was so sweet you really needed to have it with black coffee to make it palatable. We also don't use loaf pans, because we don't have any. (Except the one inside the breadmaker.) We make a double-recipe, relative to Falkner's original version, and split that between our 3 qt and 2 qt Pyrex lasagna/casserole trays. (Well, technically the smaller one is Anchor Hocking, not Pyrex.) The cook time is 50 minutes. I don't know exactly why it takes so much longer than what's called for in the original, but that's what works to get it nice and fluffy through the center (and to get it to pass the knife test), rather than still being TOO dense/moist.

This will make something like 16 servings, depending how big you're cutting it.

Crisp Topping

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (packed down in measuring cup, not loose)
  • 3/8 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free oat flour, if that's how you roll)
  • spices, to taste; I use something like 2 teaspoons of spice total, mixing allspice, cardamom cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg
  • 3/8 cup butter (3/4 of a standard stick) cut into small cubes
  • If you buy unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt, maybe 1/4 tsp
  • 3/8 cup chopped nuts and/or shredded unsweetened fresh coconut

In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, and nuts. Stir to combine. Add butter and mix til you get coarse crumbs. The easiest way to get the right texture for crisp topping is to clean and dry your hands, and then pinch bits of the dry mix around the cubes of butter. Keep doing that as long as you can see identifiable bits of butter. It helps if you have a friend who can scrape topping bits off your fingers with the back of a knife, when you're done. Or you can just lick your fingers. :-)

You want this stuff to be done right around the same time as the cake batter, which is tricky if you don't have more than one person working on it. You want the butter in the topping to be just warm enough to merge into the crumbles, but not so melty it starts to ooze out. And the cake batter is even more time sensitive because once the baking powder is wet, it's only going to keep providing lift for a limited time. If you need to make it first, and then work on the cake, you may want to shove it in the fridge for five minutes or so while you're getting all the ingredients ready, and then pull it back out before you start actually mixing stuff.

This is 1.5x the original crisp topping recipe, against 2x of the cake batter... I'm considering trying it at 1:1, so it would be 1 cup of oats and brown sugar, etc. Probably won't make it again until next December, though, since we don't have enough pears left and don't plan to get another box this season... (I guess I could try it with a different fruit at some point. It's kind of insanely decadent, though, so I don't make it often.)


  • 4 medium or 3 very large pears, cored and sliced so that they're about 1/4" to 1/2" on the outer edge. You can leave the skin on. (We use this recipe every year when we get the Harry & David Royal Rivieras. They are also delicious all by themselves. I have exactly one left from this year's boxes, which I'll be having with lunch in a little while...)
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter (two sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sour cream (one standard tub)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325˚F.

Cream together the butter and sugar. This is easy if you have an orbital mixer (like a KitchenAid -- use the regular mixing paddle on the lowest speed) but you could also do it with some kind of hand mixer, or a dough whisk, or even a fork. (I've also heard the tip of freezing the butter, running it through a cheese grater to get very small bits, then mixing it up with the sugar and waiting for it to soften up.) Once the butter and sugar are brought together so you don't see any streaks of unmixed butter anymore, mix in the eggs, then sour cream, then milk, then vanilla. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure none of the butter/sugar mix is hiding out under the more liquidy stuff.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Take the bowl of wet ingredients out of the mixer. Dump the dry ingredients into the wet, and fold together gently with a spatula, just until you're not seeing clumps of dry flour anymore.

Lay out the pears to roughly cover the bottom of your baking pans. Spoon over about 1/3 to 1/2 of the crisp mixture. Pour the batter over. It doesn't need to make a thick layer, it's going to poof up a lot; you do want it to cover the pears and be more or less even across the whole pan, though, so smooth it out with the back of a spoon or a spatula if you need to. Spoon the rest of the crisp over the top.

Shove the pans in the oven. You may want to start taking a look through the oven window every five minutes or so when you reach 30, and if it looks like the cake has turned nicely blond and the crisp is nicely browned, do a knife test (poke a sharp knife in the middle, see if it comes out clean, with no wet batter on the end, just maybe a bit of steam). For us, it takes 50 minutes to get it done properly. Possibly the 30 minute time on Elizabeth's recipe is because she's using a convection oven.

Stick the pans on top of sturdy cooling racks, or something else to put some air-circulation space underneath, and let stand for at least 20 minutes, so the cake can cool and firm up. If you have enough people to eat the whole thing immediately you can turn it out onto a cutting surface (cut around the outside, hold the cutting surface firmly against the pan, and flip). We usually just cut servings out from the Pyrex pan to serve one at a time, and that works just fine, as long as the servings are large enough to slip the spatula underneath and pull the pears with the cake. (And really, even if the pears get stuck in the bottom you can always grab them after getting the cake part out.) It also stores fine in the fridge for several days.


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