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