Some of my earliest cooking memories involve my grandmother's kitchen in the French countryside. I would be standing on a step stool, dutifully pouring and stirring as instructed, while a breeze came through the open window. A roast would typically be simmering on the stove or in the oven for dinner. Apples and pears from the orchard were piled in a bowl on the counter. My grandfather would be reading Le Figaro in the living room and my sister playing with toys in the attic.
A few weeks ago, while back for a too-short visit, my mother and I sat at that same kitchen table and talked about "the good old days" over an evening cup of tea. I was going through my grandmother's recipe collection - handwritten or cut from magazines and pasted onto color-coded index cards - reminiscing about the memories each dish evoked in both of us, when I came across this one. I made it when back in my own kitchen in Brooklyn, using Hudson Valley pears and serving it after beef stew to friends who came over on a crisp fall Sunday afternoon. It's simple, it doesn't even call for vanilla in the cake batter, but the sweet caramel, the tender pears, and the just-moist-enough cake somehow work that magic that only some combination of France, New York, and fall manage to evoke.
Note: I used cake flour made by following these proportions, which I found in the instructions for Molly Yeh's funfetti cake, also on Food52: http://www.pastryaffair.com/blog/2012/1/10/tuesday-tip-how-to-make-cake-flour.html —CamsKitchen
flour (I used cake flour - see note above)
cubed sugar (about 25-50 depending on size. I used about 50 mini-cubes from Dominos)
In This Recipe
Pre-heat oven to 356 degrees (180 Celsius / Thermostat 6)
Combine the powdered sugar, eggs, and salt together and mix until pale.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add it in to the sugar/eggs mixture all at once, then add the butter all at once. Mix well.
Make the caramel directly in the cake pan (I used an 8" pan) by adding the cubed sugar and placing it on medium-low heat, lifting the pan and swirling as necessary to keep the caramel from burning.
Let the caramel cool slightly while you peel and thinly slice the pears. Arrange pear slices at the bottom of the cake pan, on top of the caramel. Add batter over the pears.
Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes or so before inverting onto a plate and gently removing the pan.