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



Filed under in the night kitchen


  1. Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:53 AM | Permalink

    So gorgeous! The shots are like paintings! And the tart looks delish, too.

  2. Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:56 AM | Permalink

    Hi Emma,
    I agree with Ceri. Your photos are just gorgeous and do look like paintings. :-)

  3. claudia molina
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:00 AM | Permalink

    very nice indeed!

  4. Jennifer
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:00 AM | Permalink

    How very baroque ;)
    Gorgeous photos and that cake looks awesome!

  5. Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Permalink

    Emma, these belong in frames! Lovely shots indeed! xo

  6. Cathy
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

    I want to reach and touch those pictures. One can catch a faint aroma of that lovely cake.
    I agree with the other comments, they look like paintings.

  7. marina
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

    inspiring sumptuous cake and photos!

  8. shadi
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:32 PM | Permalink

    Amazing photos and cake! I wish I could bake :( I don’t know why I fail miserably every single time! I want a bite of that cake so bad

  9. Posted November 12, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Permalink

    Gorgeous photos! Wow.

  10. Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:33 PM | Permalink

    Beautiful, Emma! as always

  11. Posted November 13, 2012 at 7:49 PM | Permalink

    Stunning. It is amazing how rich a black background can make a photo! Sian is so amazing.

  12. Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:50 AM | Permalink

    I was just saying to my partner the other day how pears are so under-utilised in desserts generally. I absolutely love pears and this is a perfect recipe for me to make for my next dinner party. Thank you for sharing and I will let you know how it goes down! The photographs are beautiful and reminded me of an Old Masters still life painting.

  13. Andreas
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:53 AM | Permalink

    Reminds me of the old Dutch masters. Gorgeous.

  14. Posted November 16, 2012 at 4:20 AM | Permalink

    This is beautiful! The only bad thing I could possibly find about those pictures is that they made me crave cake. lol

  15. Posted November 18, 2012 at 7:32 PM | Permalink

    These photos are AMAZING. Truly. Like paintings. And thank you for this recipe, I cannot wait to try it!

  16. Trevor
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 6:06 PM | Permalink

    How very inspiring. I was looking for an alternative that was also seasonal, elegant and not too expensive. Thank you for the recipe. I am making it Turkey Day morning to bring to our dear friends that are amazing cooks and I am sure they will be impressed.

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  1. By the marion house book » all in a week on December 14, 2012 at 9:48 AM

    [...] collaborated with photographer Sian Richards again this week to pull together a little winter food shoot. I’ll have the full post for you [...]

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