Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pear Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake

I definitely have cornbread on my mind. I loved writing about The Cornbread Gospels in my last post, and I’m still enjoying the results of the recipe I gave you – buttery Almond-Herb Biscuits. They freeze beautifully, and I’ve been defrosting them one at a time to eat with soup for dinner…so good!

You’d think I had enough corn-y recipes for a while, but when I saw this cake in the February issue of Gourmet, I had to make it. I’ve been clipping cornmeal cake recipes out of magazines for the last couple years. I’ll see one now and then, often served with a fruit compote, sometimes topped with cream or a sweet glaze. Some cornmeal cakes remind me of my favorite blueberry-cornmeal pancakes (I’ll post them for you as soon as I can snap a decent picture!). I could somehow justify the pancakes as a balanced meal, yet the cornmeal cakes felt too much like desserts that weren’t quite as indulgent as say, a flourless chocolate tart.

But with the novelty of the upside-down cake and my love of pears – especially sticky, warm, caramelized pears – this cake got me into the kitchen. It is very easy to make – minimal ingredients and not much mess. Peeling and coring the pears is only slightly fussy, and everything else is a snap.

The flavor is deliciously subtle. It’s not tooth-achingly sweet from pounds of sugar, but sweet with maple syrup, stone-ground cornmeal and caramelized fruit. You could serve it with whipped cream or ice cream, but I love a little sour cream to swirl around with a drizzle of maple syrup on my plate. I don’t see myself getting tired of cornmeal cakes, cornbread, corn muffins, corn biscuits or the rest of it anytime soon.

But wait, there's more!
Head over to NPR's website and read the story with recipes that I wrote for their Kitchen Window column. It’s the dramatic tale of my obsession with gourmet pizza. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…you might even bake.

Pear Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from this recipe, Gourmet magazine, February 2008

Gourmet calls this a “johnnycake,” after the griddled cornbread-slash-pancake that is a Rhode Island specialty. I don’t disagree – it was just too much to fit in the title. This is a dessert with actual nutritional value, especially if use whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose. Stone ground cornmeal is the best choice because it is all-natural and has truer corn flavor. You can find it many supermarkets and natural food stores.

Serves 8

1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.)
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 firm-ripe Anjou pears, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, divided
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
3/4 cup stone ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk (reduced fat or whole)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
To serve: additional maple syrup and sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon into a small bowl. Use about 1 tablespoon from the bowl to brush the bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch cake pan.

Return the skillet to medium heat, sprinkle the sugar over the butter and add the pears, cut side up. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of the nutmeg and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the pears, sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and continue cooking until the cut sides are lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Transfer the pears to the cake pan, cut side down.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, maple syrup and reserved 6 tablespoons of melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Pour batter into the cake pan over the pears. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until the top is golden and sides pull away from the pan (it took 22 minutes with my 8-inch pan). Cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides to loosen the cake. Invert onto a platter and serve with maple syrup and sour cream.

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MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I couldn't agree more Julie. I finally made a cornmeal cake last year sometime and found that simple was wonderfully good. Love this one with pears.

nicole said...

Congrats on the article :) And, the cake looks yummy.

Anita said...

Great article with great pizza ideas! Congratulations Julie!

superluckykitchen said...

i saw this in gourmet too! looks amazing. Love cornmeal!

Hillary said...

You DO have cornbread on the mind! Nice touch with the pears!

Stacey said...

I'd been craving homemade pizza for a couple weeks now and had already decided that TONIGHT WAS THE NIGHT before I saw your fabulous Kitchen Window article. I'd been looking for a new crust recipe so I tried yours and I love it! Thanks for the timely post :)

Harker said...

Looks delicious. There is another great recipe for this in "The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook," Sasquatch 2004. One of my favorites and has candied ginger bits that really make it a wow!