I’ve made dozens and dozens of gingerbread cookies, and baked and decorated many gingerbread houses when my kids were little, but a gingerbread cake? Well, I’d never made one, and if truth be told, had never eaten a slice of one until a few years ago. It wasn’t a flavor that I’d grown up with or ever had the yen to seek out on my own. But I have to say, I was a convert after tasting that first slice of gingerbread cake a few years ago at the house of friends.
Those same friends who served the gingerbread cake – Jan and Dave – also send us a box of Harry & David pears each Christmas. Last year, I made an upside down pear walnut cake with some of them last year here. We loved the nuttiness of this cake, but I wanted to try something different this year.
Eureka! I found a cake recipe combining gingerbread with pears in an upside down cake crowned with a luscious caramel-y top. It turns out pears and gingerbread were made to party together!
Although I’ve made many upside down cakes, with fruits of all kinds, most of them (not the walnut cake) have a basic white or yellow cake batter as the base. Like the walnut cake though, this gingerbread cake recipe is a welcome change from the standard upside down cake batter. Lay the pear slices in a cast iron skillet (or a 9″ cake pan) and pour the brown sugar/butter mixture on top.
Then make the batter, which is very dark since it contains molasses and many spices.
It comes out of the oven looking like this. Run a butterknife around the edge, then using two pot holders, place a large platter (a wider diameter than the pan) over the cake and flip it over. Careful, don’t burn yourself on the pan or the hot syrup.
Top it with whipped cream or ice cream. Of course, the topping is not strictly necessary, but the coolness of the cream with the spiciness of the cake is divine. Besides, what are a few more calories when bathing suit weather is still months away?
This cake is best eaten warm from the oven, but it tastes delicious the next day too. Unlike most white or yellow upside down cakes, whose texture get denser the next day, this gingerbread cake maintains its tender crumb and moist texture even a few days after baking. The pears and the brown sugar topping do soften somewhat if you don’t eat it all the day it’s baked, however. It serves at least eight people, so plan on taking some to a neighbor as I did, or invite some friends in for coffee and cake.
- 4 firm medium pears
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- ⅛ tsp. ground cinnamon
- GINGERBREAD CAKE:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1½ tsps. ground ginger
- 1⅓ tsps. ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¾ cup unsulphured or dark molasses
- ¾ cup hot water
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ⅓ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- whipped cream, to serve (optional)
- Prepare the topping: Lightly grease a 9" square or round baking pan (I used a cast iron skillet).
- Peel, core and slice pears into thick slices.
- Tightly layer the pears in the prepared pan. Set aside.
- Whisking constantly, heat the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Once butter has melted, vigorously whisk to ensure the butter is not separating from the brown sugar.
- Once it comes together, pour evenly over pears.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- MAKE THE CAKE:
- Whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and slat together.
- Set aside.
- Whisk the molasses and hot water together. Set aside.
- Beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
- Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
- Beat in the egg and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 1 minute.
- Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
- Turn the mixer off and add the dry ingredients and molasses/water.
- Turn the mixer on low and mix just until combined.
- The batter will be a little thick.
- Carefully pour/spread batter on top of pears.
- Bake for around 35-45 minutes or until the cake is baked through (I put a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil on the rack below the cake to catch any butter/brown sugar that might spill out).
- To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake.
- If it comes out clean, it's done.
- If you notice the edges or top browning too quickly, tent the cake with aluminum foil.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate
- Best served warm.