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Monday, November 16, 2009

Cardamom and Pear Upside-Down Cake

I have a flavor secret weapon: Cardamom.

It wasn’t until I went to pastry school that I truly discovered and fell in love with Cardamom. In my experience, it’s one of those ingredients that many people have heard of but don’t know how to use…nor are they aware of the magical powers it possesses in the deliciousness department. Cardamom’s flavor is both pungent and sweet, it reminds me of cinnamon, ginger and citrus.

Cardamom is a member of the ginger family and is one of the most expensive spices out there (luckily, a little goes a long way). The most common varieties sold are green and black. I tend towards the green cardamom in baking, but you can use either variety depending on your taste. To me, black cardamom is a bit bitter and has kind of a blunt flavor compared to the green variety.

For maximum flavor, I recommend buying the cardamom in their pods and then grinding it in a spice grinder. You can also find it in powder form but it’s a little iffy as to how strong the flavor will be…it could have been sitting on the grocery store shelves for longer than you’d like to imagine.

Cardamom has a warm and lingering flavor that is full of complexity and is quite wonderful in baked goods. I especially like pairing it with fruit, like pears in this Cardamom and Pear Upside-Down Cake.

Here, the cardamom takes on a very warm and cozy quality that is perfect for dessert tables in the fall and winter months.

Cardamom and Pear Upside-Down Cake
Upside-Down Topping:
2 Bartlett Pears, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch slices
½ stick of butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons juice from an orange

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
¾ stick of butter
zest from 1 orange
¾ teaspoon cardamom
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan (I used a pan with a removable bottom, but it’s not necessary).

For the Upside-Down Topping:
Heat the butter, brown sugar, salt and orange juice in a skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and all sugar is dissolved, take off the heat and pour mixture into the cake pan.
Arrange the Pear slices overlapping one another on top of the sugar mixture. Set aside.

For the Cake:
Melt the butter with the orange zest and cardamom. Once butter is melted, set aside to cool.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Whisk both sugars and the eggs together in a large bowl until thick and smooth. Slowly whisk in the melted butter mixture until combined. Add sour cream and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and whisk just to combine.
Pour batter into the pan over the pears and spread evenly. Bake until cake is golden brown, ~35-40 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Loosen the cake from the pan by running a butter knife or small offset spatula around the inner edge. Place wire rack on top of cake and flip over the cake (you may want to do this over parchment to catch any drips). Gently remove the cake pan and allow to cool completely.


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