The idea of using ground walnuts, as well as caramelizing pears in an upside-down cake were instant draws for me when I saw this recipe in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Unfortunately, the cake was a letdown.
I’ve made my share of pear desserts over the years, with my favourites being this sorbet, this other sorbet, these crisps, and this frangipane tart. So I’m biased towards anything featuring pears to begin with.
The recipe is pretty simple. It has a tip for selecting “ripe, but firm” Bosc pears: check the neck. As pears ripen from the inside out, checking the narrowest part tells you when the fruit is good to go. Although the recipe says to process the eggs and sugar for 2 minutes, I didn’t find much of a difference in the height or texture of the cake when I made the cake the first time, processing the mixture for only 20 seconds.
I learned a few things from making it twice though: you can cut back on the sugar in the topping, er, bottom. And, the fruit cries out for some kind of complementary flavouring, like a hint of cinnamon or vanilla. Unfortunately, this cake just didn’t do it for me. There’s nothing obviously wrong with it, but there’s nothing outstanding about it either.