upside down saffron pear cake

A few weeks ago I was strolling through the outdoor farmer's market in search of interesting gourds and pumpkins for a food story when I came across these delicate Seckel pears.  I fell in love and knew in an instant that my pumpkin food story was going to become a pear story. They were just too beautiful not to photograph. Wanting to do them justice I asked my friend and talented photographer Sian Richards to collaborate with me. We decided to make an upside down saffron pear cake.

Before we began we took the time to just revel in the beauty of these pears. I foraged around in my neighbour's back yard and managed to get a couple of branches from his pear trees along with a few Bosc pears.

The beauty of this upside down saffron cake is the layer of buttery sweet pears that coat the top of the cake. Sugar, saffron and butter are combined to make a thick paste that the slices of pears are rested in.

Upside Down Saffron Pear Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart - yields 6-8 slices)


Pinch of saffron threads
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
4-6 Seckel pears or 2-3 Bosc pears
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square or round cake pan with butter. Line bottom with parchment paper, and set aside.

Pulse saffron and 1/4 cup sugar in a spice grinder until well combined. Put butter and saffron sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Using a small offset spatula, spread mixture into prepared pan.

Peel pears; halve lengthwise, and core. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut pears lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange pears decoratively in pan over saffron-butter mixture.

Whisk together flour, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, the baking powder, ground ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in another bowl. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking. Stir in crystallized ginger.

Spread batter over pears. Bake until set and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes. Place a serving platter upside down over pan; flip to unmold cake. Peel off parchment.

I increased the amount of ground ginger and crystallized ginger in this recipe to give it a bit more of a kick. If ginger isn't your thing you could easily make it without.

I think the next time I make this cake I will also slice the pears a bit thicker. While the thin fanned pears look beautiful on top the thought of biting into a juicy butter soaked pear is too good not to try.

For all my American friends looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving in the coming weeks this cake would make a great alternative or accompaniment to traditional Pumpkin Pie. Let me know if you give it a try!


Image credits:
Sian Richards