Studded with nutty brown butter, warm spices, and a pear-covered bottom, this Upside Down Pear Cake is light, fluffy, and the perfect cake to serve on a cold winter day. Easy to make, and even easier to impress with!
Upside-Down Pear Cake
Contrary to what the pictures show on today’s post, I’ve started a detox.
And sadly, this little piece of heaven isn’t included in it. Bummer, I know? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could “detox” and lose weight eating things that looked like our upside-down pear cake? Maybe in a world where nothing cost money, every day was a holiday, and the temperature was always a delightful 85 degrees. What a wonderful world that would be.
This is everything a detox is not – delicious, buttery, nutty and sweet.
The base, seeing as this is an upside-down pear cake, is a layer of pears cooked in brown butter and brown sugar. Next, is a slightly sweet, but not cloyingly so, buttermilk cake batter that’s studded with bits of brown butter throughout.
If you’re drooling right now, you should be.
The cake itself is ever-so-slightly sweet, yet tangy, with just a hint of nuttiness from the brown butter. The caramel from the pears seep into the cake while baking, making for a moist and tender crumb when you cut into it.
It’s pretty much my idea of cake nirvana. The perfect balance of sweet, tangy, indulgent and surprisingly light.
Enjoy a slice at breakfast with a cup of hot coffee or straight out of the oven with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert – or if you’re in detox mode like I am, sneak a piece when no one’s looking.
Ingredients in Upside-Down Pear Cake with Brown Butter
Butter. So let’s start with the buttery and nutty part. Remember, I told you this cake isn’t a detox cake. Butter is needed.
The butter is used in three different ways. First, we brown the butter and use part of it to cook the pears. Second, we use the rest of the brown butter (after it’s been solidified again) along with the regular softened butter in the cake batter.
Typically cakes require that butter be softened so it can in turn be creamed into sugar. Now we know from here and here that the way we make brown butter is to melt it and then brown it over the stove, so obviously it’s no longer in the “softened”state. BUT if we cool it down and stick it in the freezer and watch it very carefully we can ALMOST get it back to its velvety softened self <– which is great for baking.
Brown sugar. This creates a more caramel-like richer flavor and I love the way it tastes with brown butter.
Pears. Any kind will do. Firm pears work best since we need to cook them. A softer pear, after cooking, may result in a soggy end result.
White sugar. This is for the cake. I’m not a fan of a cloyingly sweet cake, so we only need a little bit.
Egg. You’ll need two!
Dry ingredients. All-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. I love the combination of sweet and salty, so I make sure to add plenty of salt.
Buttermilk. This aids in a tender crumb, and I just love the tanginess of buttermilk.
How to make Upside-Down Pear Cake Cake
Make the brown butter. If you’re frequent reader, then you know I LOVE brown butter. To make brown butter, all you have to do is add the butter to a skillet, turn the heat on high, and once the butter begins to melt, swirl the pan until it starts to turn brown. Continue to swirl the pan until the butter becomes a deep brown color and smells nutty. Set aside.
Chill the butter. Stir the brown butter, making sure to evenly distribute the brown bits. Pour out all but two tablespoons of the butter into a small bowl. Transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill, stirring every three minutes until it reaches a soft consistency.
Cook the pears. Add the brown sugar to butter still in the pan. Turn the heat on medium and stir until the brown sugar melts. Add the pears. Simmer until the pears are slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down to low to keep warm.
Butter and flour your baking pan. Heavily butter an 8-inch or 9-inch round baking pan. Dust with flour. This is such an important step because you want the pears, cake and syrup to easily slide out when it’s done baking.
Make the cake
Mix the batter. Once the butter has reached a softened state. Add it to a stand mixer along with the white sugar and the remaining softened butter. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides down and eggs and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.
While the butter creams, add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.
Add the flour and buttermilk in two batches on a low speed, alternating first with half of the flour, and then with half of the buttermilk. Repeat.
Assemble the cake. Arrange the pears in the bottom of the pan in a circular pattern. Pour the sauce on top. Gently dollop the batter in the pan and very carefully spread it out with a spatula.
Bake and serve! Bake the cake 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Let the cake rest for one minute after coming out of the oven. Use a knife to pull the sides of the cake from the pan. Place a large plate or platter on top of the pan and then very quickly flip it over. Tap the top a few times with a spoon or knife and carefully remove the pan from the cake.
Serve warm or ro0m temperature!
Can I make this in advance?
Yes! Just make sure to invert it right away. I made upside-down pear cake on a Monday, ate a slice, and then saved it on a covered cake platter. I snacked on it for five days, and it will still great! I’m partial to it warm, so I would stick in in the microwave before eating for about 20 seconds.
What if I don’t have buttermilk?
Add two teaspoons of vinegar to the milk. Let it sit for five minutes.
What if my pears stick to the pan?
If you butter and flour the pan well enough, the pears and cake should NOT stick. If they do, don’t worry, just peel them off and nestle them back into the cake.
Do I have to make brown butter?
No. However, the brown butter is what makes this upside-down pear cake different than a traditional buttermilk cake. It adds an element of nuttiness you just can’t replicate with any other flavor. If you really don’t want to brown the butter, the recipe will still work if you just use all plain softened butter for the batter.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Make sure to butter and flour your baking dish VERY well. The pears WILL stick if this isn’t done well enough.
- If your pears do stick, don’t fret! Just pick them off the bottom of the pan, and place them back on the cake where they belong. Dust with powdered sugar as stated, no one will know. 🙂
- Don’t overwork the batter! Once you start to add the flour and buttermilk, add in on a LOW speed JUST until it’s combined.
- Don’t wait to invert your cake! If the cake sits in the pan and cools, the bottom will get sticky and the pears will definitely stick to the bottom.
- If it’s not pear season, use apples for an apple upside down cake. A classic banana upside down cake would also work great.
What to serve with Upside-Down Pear Cake.
I love to serve this as is, but it would also be great with some vanilla ice cream, or sweetened warm cream. Salted caramel ice cream would also be phenomenal!
- 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp + pinch kosher salt
- 2 pears, halved, cored and sliced into 1/8-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 8-inch circle baking dish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan VERY well. Cut a circle of parchment big enough to fit in the bottom of the pan. Nestle the paper in the pan and then butter the parchment paper. Add flour the the pan. Evenly coat the butter in flour, shaking out any excess flour.
- Add seven tablespoons of the softened butter to a large saute pan. Heat to medium-high. Swirl the pan until the butter starts to brown on the edges. Continue to swirl the pan until the butter turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty. Remove from the heat. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to get all the brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Transfer all but two tablespoons of the butter to a small bowl. Transfer the bowl of melted brown butter to the freezer. Stir every three or four minutes until the butter has solidified again, and is in a softened state. (You want to it to be the same texture as the softened butter, so make sure you don't freeze it until it's hard. Stirring every few minutes is key!)
- While the butter solidifies, add brown sugar to the two tablepsoons of brown butter in the saute pan. Turn the heat on medium and cook until the brown sugar has melted. Add pears and toss in the sauce. Cook pears 2-3 minutes until slightly softened. Turn the heat off. Season with a pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, and cinnamon to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Once the butter has come to a softened state, add it, along with the remaining 4 tablespoons softened butter and sugar to the bottom of a stand mixer. Beat on a medium speed until it's light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to low and eggs, one at a time, until each is incorporated. Add vanilla, mix until combined.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar. Mix on low just until the flour Has been combined. Add half the buttermilk. Again mix on low, just until the buttermilk is combine. Add another 1/3 of the flour, and mix on low just until combined. Pour in the remaining buttermilk and mix until combined. Finally, add the remaining 1/3 of the flour and mix on low just until combined.
- Arrange the pears in the prepared pan. Pour any remaining caramel sauce on top. Working carefully, dollop the batter over the pear mixture and spread the batter evenly over the pears, making sure to not move the pears. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs attached.
- Let the cake rest for 1 minute. Use a knife to loosen all the edges. Place a large plate or platter on top of the pan. Flip and use a knife or spoon to tap the top so the cake releases. Remove the pan. Gently remove parchment paper. Cut into wedges. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.