Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (Gluten-Free)

Apr 9 2012

an attempt at a spiral a ring with smaller pieces in the middle

All upside-down cakes are essentially the same: you start by lining the pan with sugar and pieces of fruit. The batter goes on top, and after it’s baked and cooled, you hold your breath and turn it over. If it doesn’t stick to the pan or fall apart, the fruit on the bottom of the pan, which will have caramelized in the oven, should form a beautiful topping. No additional assembly or decoration necessary.

Pineapple is the American favorite, often with maraschino cherries tucked into the center of the rings. The French classic tarte tatin usually uses apples. I found myself with a glut of overripe pears again, so I thought I’d give those a try. I also wanted to keep it celiac-friendly, so I was delighted to find this recipe which uses ground almonds in place of any grain flours.From the original recipe at Epicurious

Flourless almond cake is apparently a specialty of several regions in Spain—I found it attributed to Galicia (in the northwest corner), Majorca (an island in the Mediterranean off the southeast coast), and Navarre (which borders France). It was likely created by Jews as a Passover dessert, as it’s free of both dairy and flour; the only ingredients are almonds, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and (sometimes) cinnamon. Pastry shops near the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia now sell it year-round, dusted with powdered sugar except for a Santiago cross stenciled in the center. At cafes and restaurants on Majorca, home to over 4 million almond trees, the same cake is served with a scoop of dairy-free almond ice cream, which is described as being so light and pure in flavor it’s almost more like a sorbet. In Navarre, it’s typically topped with apricot jam.

Although the pears break with Spanish tradition, I think they complement the recipe well. They add a welcome bit of additional sweetness without overwhelming the delicate combination of almond, lemon, and cinnamon. The caramel also adds moisture and richness, without which it might seem a bit plain. And if you’re not keeping kosher, a generous helping of cream whipped with vanilla or an orange liqueur is a fine substitute for the ice cream.

Only a 1/4 cup of caramel for each cake, but the pear juices also caramelize and seep into the cake; also, a recipe that doubles with no problems

Recipe: Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (adapted from Gabby’s Gluten-Free and Bon Appetit)

basic caramel, which I opted for instead of the brown sugar versions which seem to use 4x as much sugar and can be grainyIngredients:

For the topping:

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 T. water
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1-2 large pears

For the cake:

  • 150 g. almond meal (1 1/4 cups; or 1 1/3 cups blanched, slivered almonds finely ground in a food processor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Extras: more butter for greasing pan, parchment paper, whipped cream or ice cream to serve


1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Generously butter a 9”  cake pan and line with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan.

my grocery store only carries that horrible "If You Care" brand, so my parchment is unbleached; I don't care about the color, but I hate supporting such a passive-aggressive brand name washing down the sides of the pan. you could probably skip this step if you add a tablespoon of corn syrup, which also prevents crystallization

2. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Put some more water in another bowl with a pastry brush. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir the sugar mixture until it dissolves. Continue cooking without stirring for 8-10 minutes or until it begins to darken. Use the pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pan with water periodically to prevent crystallization. Once it begins to color, swirl the pan so the caramel cooks evenly, and pull it off the heat once it’s a medium amber. Add the butter, which will bubble and foam, stir until combined and immediately pour into the prepared cake pan. If it wants to harden and won’t spread evenly, put the pan in the oven as it preheats for 5-10 minutes.

just beginning to color coating the bottom of the pans, doesn't have to be perfectly even

3. Core the pears and cut them into 1/8” slices. Arrange them in a single layer on top of the caramel.

spiral on the left, concentric circles on the right

4. Combine the egg yolks and sugar and beat until they’re pale and lemony. Add the almond meal, lemon zest, cinnamon, extract if using, and salt and stir until combined.

yolks and sugar, first combinedthis is how much they lighten with beating: no color correction!

5. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts. After each addition of whites, fold just until nearly combined—there will be some streaks of egg white remaining.  addition #1 all egg whites mixed in--you can still see a few faint streaks of white

6. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading so the surface is even.

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the edges and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

 in the pansdone--the structure of the cake is pretty firm once it's cooked

8. Let cool completely in the pan. When ready to unmold, place a plate upside down on top of the pan and invert. Shake to make sure the cake has released and remove the pan.

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Such a beautiful cake! I've

Such a beautiful cake! I've never been a big fan of pineapple, so the peach alternative is perfect! This cake could definitely pass as decoration at a party opposed to food: Beautiful Culinary.

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Although the pears break with

Although the pears break with Spanish tradition, I think they complement the recipe well.
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Is there some liquid missing

Is there some liquid missing from the recipe? 4 yolks isn't much and when I added the almond meal it was impossible to mix, it was so thick and sticky. I ended up having to add melted butter and some milk.

not just the yolks

It's four whole eggs. You separate the eggs and whip the whites to a stiff foam and then fold them in.

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Sooooo good...

This cake was so easy and so delicious, I have recommended it to friends and family (gluten free or not). A real winner.

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Missing Ingredient?

Made this for my gluten intolerant wife last week--the flavor was good, but the cake was more like unleavened bread--would using about 1 tsp. gluten free baking powder help the cake to be more like--well, cake?

not in the original recipe, but you could try it

The egg foam does most of the leavening in this recipe. Mine came out pretty cake-like, but you could certainly try adding baking powder if yours came out too dense.

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I just put 2 cakes in the oven. In one I used Earth Balance Vegan spread instead of butter and Almond Flour instead of almond meal (I realize they are similar, but added GF flours). In the other I used Coconut flour and coconut extract instead of almond extract. I doubled the amount of caramel in both (I love caramel topping).
The coconut flour cake was fairly crumbly. Almost like a shortcake before it is pressed.
Stay tuned for the results!


Well, both turned out yummy! I prefer the almond version and my partner liked the coconut version better. The almond was lighter and more cake like. The coconut was more dense and chewy, more like a cookie-cake. I will definitely make this again! thanks


I'm a big fan of coconut flour. It seems to absorb a lot more moisture than almond flour--I wonder if you could get a more cake-like texture by only using about 1/2 as much coconut flour as almond flour? Anyhow, glad they turned out well and thanks for the feedback!

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