It’s no secret ’round the internet that my almond torte is my favorite thing in the world. When I was in college, it was the cake that my mom would make me and send up as a treat. When I got my first apartment and mom made me a little cookbook of my favorite family recipes, the almond torte is the first one in the book. It’s one of the easiest recipes around, so I make it often, but sometimes I want to mess with a good thing. This upside-down pear version is definitely a good thing.
I’ve tried this once before, about 6 years ago or so, and it wasn’t a disaster—I decided to try it again, didn’t I? But it wasn’t a resounding success, either—I didn’t immediately add it to the rotation of standard desserts. The reason? It was just a bit too wet. I wondered if I should adjust the cake batter in some way or if there was some other way to find the right balance.
I gave it another go, with an eye toward a drier composition before putting it in the oven, but I didn’t make any significant changes because I needed a control in my little experiment, and it had been too long since I made it the first time to count that as a control. Jason bought us 3 pears at the Greenmarket, and though I didn’t specify a type he got Asian pears–technically, an apple. I was pleased with this because they are definitely on the dry side (sweet, yes, and deliciously crispy, but not prone to juice running down your arm and mushy consistency). So I peeled, cored, and cut them into wedges of approximately the same size. In a saucepan I melted about a tablespoon of butter and added about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. To that I added half the pears, and I cooked them over medium heat until most of the liquid that the pears released was evaporated, the pears were knife-tender, and they started to get a tiny bit browned. Dry was the name of the game, right?
It took two batches just because I picked a too-small pan. Go with 2 tablespoons butter and a quarter cup of brown sugar all at once if your pan will be big enough!
Instead of the 8-inch pan I normally use for the torte, I chose my 10-inch so that I could have more pear surface. I rubbed the bottom and sides with butter, then arranged the pears in all pretty-like. I did NOT pour any of the excess caramel from the pan over the pears, which is tempting to do, but I didn’t want it to get too wet.
Meanwhile, I made the almond torte following the recipe exactly. I carefully smeared it into the pan ove the pears (this is impossible to do perfectly—the pears WILL move around, but just push them back as best you can. It baked for the same amount of time as for the normal cake, and it came out puffy and lightly browned. I let it rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then slide a knife between the cake and the edges, placed my cake stand over, and flipped it out!
It came out perfectly. The pears didn’t produce too much extra liquid to compromise the texture of the cake, and the caramel in the bottom of the pan flavored every bit deliciously. It was a perfect fall dessert!
Upside-Down Pear Almond Torte
for the pears:
3 Asian pears
2 tablespoons butter
1/4–1/2 cup brown sugar
for the cake:
1/2 cup almond paste (not marzipan)
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter (that’s 10 2/3 tablespoons. It’s weird, I know.)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (use vanilla if you don’t have almond)
2/3 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Peel, core, and cut the pears into wedges. Melt the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and saute until the pears have given off their liquid and the pan is getting dry. Butter a 10-inch cake pan. Arrange pears in pan. Meanwhile, combine the almond paste and sugar in a food processor and pulse til grainy. Add the remaining ingredients and process until combined. Pour into the prepared pan, spread even, and bake for 50–55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.