Pear & Semolina Upside-down Cake

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With pears so lovely and juicy this time of year, I’ve been making the most of them in the kitchen. Replacing the apple in the spice cake with pear is one easy favourite, as is adding thin slices of still-crunchy Doyenne du Comice or Anjou to a salad. I love poaching them whole with a vanilla pod for an easy dessert, or in pieces to feed a hungry baby. And recently this upside-down cake has become another regular in my pear repertoire. Although at first glance it doesn’t seem a terribly simple recipe, once you’ve done it once, you’ll find you don’t need to refer to the recipe again; it’s just common sense.

This recipe is an adaptation of a number of similar recipes, including Julie Le Clerc’s in her Cafe Collection (Penguin, 2006). But I found a lot of these recipes were just too sweet for my palate, so I’ve played around with that a bit and have used semolina rather than the polenta that some recipes use. You could replace the fruit with summer stonefruit in season, and I imagine you could play round with pretty much any fruit, as long as you judge how moist the fruit is and what effect that would have on the structure of the cake. This cake uses oil rather than butter, which I find particularly appealing with the exorbitant price of butter right now. Try replacing half the wine with Frangelico for a rich hazelnut flavour, or Cointreau for orange. And while I’m on a booze train, how about limoncello?

1/4 cup raw sugar

2 medium pears, cored and sliced

1 large egg

3/4 cup sugar

2/3 cup olive or rice bran oil

2/3 cup white wine or sherry

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

2/3 cup semolina

Syrup:

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Juice and zest of 1 large lemon

Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 22cm springform tin and sprinkle the raw sugar over the base. Arrange pear slices on top to cover.

Whisk eggs and sugar until thick, then gently beat in oil, wine and vanilla. Fold in sifted flour, semolina and baking powder until combined. Pour batter into tin and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool slightly while you prepare the syrup. Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar and boil until it starts to caramelise. Add the lemon juice and zest and simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the zest is tender. With cake inverted on a serving plate, pour the syrup over. Serve still warm or cool, with Greek yoghurt or whipped cream – or my favourite, a mix of both!

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