Cakes/ Dessert/ Fruit Desserts/ Recipes

pear cardamom upside down cake

I have a list of things in life that make me really, really happy.

That list consists of many things, including traveling, cookbooks, bacon and sundresses.

Oh yeah… and this pear cardamom upside down cake.

I found this recipe over on Luisa’s beautiful blog, and she found it years ago in the LA Times, from one of the test kitchen cooks, Mary Ellen Rae. After gazing at the recipe for only about thirty seconds, I knew in my soul that I had to make this cake as soon as humanly possible…and serve it during my retro road trip picnic. I only made a few adjustments to the original recipe and the result was sheer bliss on every level.

I love using cardamom because of it’s Scandinavian roots. Whenever I bake with it, I pretend I’m in my great-great grandmother’s tiny kitchen in Norway, making sweet rolls and dusting flour off my palms. However, it’s quite expensive and since I wasn’t about to pay thirteen dollars for a spice at Safeway, I got only an ounce in the bulk bins at Whole Foods.

This ounce only cost me a dollar….versus thirteen dollars.

It’s a good idea.

So, back to the cake. It’s sort of like a tarte tatin (Joy does a great demo video on her blog!), but using pears in a cake pan. You’ll want to use anjou pears because they hold up the best…and because they’re in season right now!

To make this cake, you’ll make the brown sugar caramel first. I took an extra step of browning the butter because….well, just because.

That is just one fourth cup butter (half a stick) that I browned for a few minutes over medium high heat and then added three fourths cup packed brown sugar. You’ll want to stir that around for a few minutes so it gets all rich and creamy and then pour it into a nine inch cake pan.

When the caramel hits the cool cake pan, it’ll harden and seize up rather quickly. Don’t worry! Now, just peel and slice two firm pears and layer the slices like this on top of the caramel:

Squeeze half a lemon over the pear slices and set aside while you make the cake.

One and a half cups flour, one half teaspoon cardamom, a fourth of a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons baking powder whisked together in a large bowl. Then, cream one stick of butter with three fourths cup granulated sugar. Add two eggs and vanilla, then the flour mixture alternately with a half cup of milk.

Spread it on the pears…

And then bake at 350 for forty minutes. When it’s done, the cake will look all beautiful and golden, and the sides will start to pull away from the pan a little bit.

Let it cool for a few minutes then say a prayer while you flip the cake over onto a plate.

It’s all about the prayer. Really!

You can cover the cake with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for several days. Call me weird, but I actually prefer upside down cakes like this on the cold side. It’s a texture thing—I love the chilled bites of dense cake with chewy caramel and sweet fruit. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and you’re in heaven…but don’t take my word for it—try it yourself!

Pear Cardamom Upside Down Cake

adapted from The Wednesday Chef

1.5 cups all purpose flour

1.5 sticks butter (3/4 cup), at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

juice of 1/2 lemon

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

2 anjou pears, peeled, cored and sliced

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350. In a cast iron skillet, brown four tablespoons of the butter over medium high heat. For a browned butter tutorial, see here. After the butter has browned, add the brown sugar and cook for three minutes over medium heat, until the caramel is smooth and creamy (it might look like the butter and sugar are separating and that’s normal..don’t worry!). Pour caramel into a nine inch cake pan and set aside.

Arrange the pear slices in the cake pan (see above photo). Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside.

Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom). Cream together the rest of the butter (1 stick) with the granulated sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, while continuing to beat. Add the vanilla extract and then the dry ingredients, alternately with the milk. Beat until light and fluffy.

Spread cake batter over pears and bake for forty minutes. Let cake cool in the pan for a few minutes before saying a prayer and turning over onto a large plate.

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  • Jessica @ How Sweet It Is
    October 26, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Words can’t even express how excited this makes me. Love pears, love cardamom… would love some vanilla ice cream with this. And I never thought of getting cardamom like that – very smart and economical! I’m rarely the latter.

  • Steph@stephsbitebybite
    October 26, 2010 at 8:15 am

    This looks fabulous!! Pears are the “in fruit” πŸ™‚ I just made cinnamon cheesecake with saucy pears!

  • Kelly
    October 26, 2010 at 8:17 am

    YUM! YUM! I always see recipes for upside down cakes but I am so nervous to make them! I always think what if it sticks? All that work for nothing…..hum….maybe I should look into the “prayer” technique! πŸ™‚

    • Krista
      October 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

      Hi Kelly, Don’t worry if some of the fruit sticks to the pan. It happens to pastry chefs too! Just pick the pieces out of the pan and patch them in there. The warm caramel will act as a glue and no one will be the wiser.

  • Heather (Heather's Dish)
    October 26, 2010 at 8:25 am

    i’ve been obsessed with making tatins and upside-down cakes lately! they’re so gorgeous yet so simple!

  • Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun
    October 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Beautiful. This is the 2nd tatin cake I have seen today and now I feel like I should give it a shot. Yours certainly looks delicious.

  • Alina @ Duty Free Foodie
    October 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

    I just filed this away into my Recipes folder! I actually have most of the ingredients on hand and I have been drooling over it since I first laid eyes on it.

  • Lori
    October 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Looks amazing! I have a bake sale to bake for this evening… you may have just changed my mind from baking blondies… Thanks!

  • Amanda (Eating Up)
    October 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Ooo this dessert makes me really nervous…in a very exciting way!

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat
    October 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

    That looks beautiful! I wish my flips were as successful as yours Jenna – maybe I need to say a longer prayer!

  • Estela @ Weekly Bite
    October 26, 2010 at 8:31 am

    This is such a beautiful cake! It almost makes you not wanna cut into it!

  • monicanelsonfitness
    October 26, 2010 at 8:36 am

    If perfection exists…I think you nailed Jenna. πŸ™‚

    I love the combo, I tried a cake (like) this once out at local hot spot bakery…it did not look like this though…at all! Just stunning I tell ya.

  • Dorry
    October 26, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Beautiful! Pears are like my forgotten fruit. I’ll go through phases when I eat them everyday then forget about them. This looks divine.

  • Lida
    October 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Yum… and interesting! I never thought of cardamom as being Scandinavian… usually, I associate it with Indian or Mediterranean cooking.
    You know what you should try if you haven’t? Turkish coffee with cardamom mixed in… it’s amazing.

  • Rachel @ The Avid Appetite
    October 26, 2010 at 8:45 am

    ANY upside down cake makes me unnaturally happy! They are SO good. I haven’t yet cooked with cardamom but have been wanting to – I think I now have the first recipe to try with it!

  • The Blue-Eyed Bakers
    October 26, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Um…this looks fabulous! And lucky us we have a whole pile of pears waiting to be baked up into this delicious goodness!

  • Alayna @ Thyme Bombe
    October 26, 2010 at 8:55 am

    That looks so good. The flavors sound so appropriate for fall. Looks easy too!

  • megan @ whatmegansmaking
    October 26, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I’ve been hearing a lot about cardamom recently – great suggestion on the bulk bins. And I’ve never made an upside down cake before – makes me nervous! Yours turned out beautifully πŸ™‚

  • Christine
    October 26, 2010 at 8:58 am

    I feel the same way about using cardamom — so in touch with my roots (my dad is Norwegian)

  • Gina
    October 26, 2010 at 9:02 am

    WHOA. This cake looks amazing! Guess what I’m baking this weekend…

  • grocery goddess jen
    October 26, 2010 at 9:07 am

    That looks so beautiful, Jenna! I love to bake, but things always look so pretty and classy in your kitchen…my stuff always seems to have cat hair stuck in it. Please come over and make one for me!

  • Logan
    October 26, 2010 at 9:10 am

    It really is beautiful.

  • Krystina (Organically Me)
    October 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I didn’t know cardamom has Scandinavian roots. Interesting!

  • Helen
    October 26, 2010 at 9:15 am

    if you have a cost plus world market near you, all their spices are 2.99 a jar (including cardamom!) its the best deal I’ve found for it.

    I would be afraid that this recipe would cause it to stick to the bottom of the pan, is that something I wouldn’t have to worry about?

  • Meaghen
    October 26, 2010 at 9:24 am

    I love the way upside down cakes look! I think it would be hard for me not to just eat that caramal sauce!

  • Cathy B. @ Bright Bakes
    October 26, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Thank you!
    cathy b. @ brightbakes
    p.s.we have the same list of things that make us happy! :)..well at least a partial list anyway…brown butter should definitely be in there somewhere. Along with retro aprons…

  • Callina
    October 26, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Do you grease your cake pan with shortening or something before you put the caramel sauce in? Or do you line it with parchment or something to make it not stick? I really want to make this but I’m a sucker for details especially when cake is involved.

    • jenna
      October 26, 2010 at 9:38 am

      I like to just rub butter in the pan to grease it!

  • Andi
    October 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Cardamom is one of my favorite spices! I’ve found that it is least expensive at Indian grocery stores (though it most often still in the pod), and they usual have a couple of varieties. I find it so odd that one spice is commonly used both in savory Indian curries and sweet Scandinavian baked goods. But I don’t mind – I love it even more for its multi-functionality.

  • Sarah
    October 26, 2010 at 9:43 am

    That’s making my mouth water!! Would this recipe work with any other fruit?

    • jenna
      October 26, 2010 at 9:46 am

      I’d stick with pears for this one. The flavor profile of the cake is best with that…you could omit the cardamom and swap pears for pineapple though if you wanted.

  • Natalia - a side of simple
    October 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Yum! Couldn’t agree more with your list, too πŸ™‚

  • Jenna
    October 26, 2010 at 10:11 am

    mmmm….must make soon!

  • Mary @ Fervent Foodie
    October 26, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Your dishes always look SO GOOD! I love baking, but then I’m always stuck with eating the goods. I need to find someone to pawn my baked goods off on πŸ™‚

  • Jaime Ramsay
    October 26, 2010 at 10:17 am

    That is a beautiful, beautiful cake.

  • amyjogo
    October 26, 2010 at 10:22 am

    upside down cakes of any kind are wonderful baked in a cast iron skillet. Plus it’s less cleanup πŸ˜‰

  • Liz
    October 26, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Can you bake the cake in a cast iron skillet? I am without cake pans at the moment?

  • Jasmine @ Eat Move Write
    October 26, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Cardamom is totally new to me and when you first said it I thought it was liquor. lol. Who knew?

  • Jessica @ Jessica Balances
    October 26, 2010 at 10:36 am

    My favorite part: “Let cake cool in the pan for a few minutes before saying a prayer and turning over onto a large plate.” hahaha amazing!

  • Dee
    October 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

    YU-UM!!! *licks lips* That looks so good.

  • RhodeyGirl
    October 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I personally don’t like cardamom, but it is used in lots of Jordanian recipes, and most especially in Arabic coffee. The smell reminds me of evenings at my grandparents’ house in RI (when they were visiting from Jordan) when the adults would drink Arabic coffee and play cards for hours.

    Anyway, if you want to start using cardamom a bit more in your cooking, you can buy it for a pretty low price at Middle Eastern markets. Check it out when you have a chance.. and while you are there pick up some labne and Armenian string cheese!

  • R @ Learning As I Chop
    October 26, 2010 at 11:01 am

    The pictures are gorgeous. And you’re right – it’s all about the prayer

  • Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)
    October 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

    “I love the chilled bites of dense cake with chewy caramel and sweet fruit. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and you’re in heaven”

    Chewy Caramel, Cake, Creme fraiche…omg omg that sounds like heaven!

    Traveling, sundresses, cakes, and pina coladas (not bacon) make me happy πŸ™‚

  • Samantha Ullrich
    October 26, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I don’t know you do it, but you make every single thing you bake look so delicious! This one is definitely going to be made for a Thanksgiving dessert. Thanks for the awesome pictures, too!

  • Nelly@CrazySexyFit
    October 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Holy GODS that looks amazing. Yeah, that’s definitely going on the list of recipes for holiday parties! The only question is, should it be paired (peared! hah!) with glogg or nog?

  • Lauren
    October 26, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Such a beautiful cake! I am making this one for Thanksgiving for sure.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  • Candice @ ChiaSeedMe
    October 26, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Pretty cake! I’m not sure if I like cardamom or not, but I definitely love pears and cake!

    And btw, I love love loved your video! It was adorable, and I had that song in my head for the rest of the night. You’ve got my vote:)

  • Suzanne de
    October 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Looks delicious. Pears always seem elegant to me & make me think of violets & honey.

  • Lisa (bakebikeblog)
    October 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    oooh I love cakes like this! So moist and tasty!

  • Lesley Lifting Life
    October 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Looks awesome!

    And I agree, cold upside cakes just taste better.

  • Kelsey
    October 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Got to love bulk. Only one grocery around here sells in bulk and it’s a shame!

  • chelsey @ clean eating chelsey
    October 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I never knew making an upside down cake was that easy!

  • JessicaE
    October 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Can you believe I’ve never tried Cardamom?! (And that I thought it was an ‘n’ at the end, lol)

  • Hope
    October 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Wow, this looks so good! So, so good…you make it look so easy, even for the baking inept like me!

  • Lauren at KeepItSweet
    October 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    what a gorgeous cake!

  • stacey-healthylife
    October 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    That looks fabulous. I love anything with pears.

  • Ravenous Rowie
    October 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I LOVE cardamom! Sometimes I think people have forgotten about it! Your cake turned out looking SO beautiful!

  • Sarah
    October 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    sooo…I just made this with apples and cinnamon as substitutes. It’s the first recipe of yours I’ve ever made. The caramel took 6 minutes to get smooth…I ’bout had a heart attack. It’s in the oven now. I’m a horrible baker. Pray for me!

    • jenna
      October 26, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      its going to be GREAT! I can smell it from here!

      • Sarah
        October 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm

        happy to report…it came out great! all it needed was some vanilla icecream, but it was delish! thanks for the recipe πŸ™‚

  • Pure2raw twins
    October 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I love cardamon!!

    Whenever I make upside cakes they never look pretty. So I no longer make them. : (

    Yours is perfect!!

  • annie
    October 27, 2010 at 3:12 am

    That looks awesome! Can’t wait to try it.

  • Kristy
    October 27, 2010 at 4:46 am

    I remember how painful it was the first time I bought Saffron πŸ™‚ Love the concept of just buying what you need!

  • notyet100
    October 27, 2010 at 5:37 am

    cake looks so perfect

  • Jennifer @ keepitsimplefoods
    October 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

    This looks insane. I want it, now.

  • Lacey @ Lake Life
    October 29, 2010 at 10:50 am

    I am so jealous of your baking skills! I am much more of a “cooker” lol.

  • Jordan
    November 10, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I made this as a birthday present for a friend and it turned out great, so I made one for myself too, and it turned out even better!

  • Julia L.
    November 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    I made this the other night! It turned out beautifully. You were right — it was 100% about the prayer. Thanks for the great recipe (as always)!!

  • Amna
    January 23, 2011 at 5:45 am

    Question: I don’t have a 9 in cake pan. I’m guessing an 8 in would for sure experience overflow. Do you think I could use a springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper so caramel doesn’t get stuck in the grooves? How would that affect baking time?

  • Lily
    July 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks for the recipe!! It was so easy and a huge hit! I added some pecans and it provided another nice dimension. The best comment (and it came from a random stranger I offered a piece to) was that “it tasted like love.” Thanks, again, for sharing!

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  • Judy Pearl
    April 18, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I love cardamom and try to find ways to use it. I can’t wait to try this recipe. It looks fantastic. Thanks!