This is one of my most favorite everyday cakes, since it is reasonably simple to prepare and it includes two of my most favorite flavors, pears and cardamom. I first made this cake at my sister’s house where I pulled the recipe from one of her cookbooks; I then copied the recipe onto the back of a receipt or something similarly scrappish and promptly lost it in a pile of paper; and then I rediscovered it today while cleaning off my desk. The thing is that I didn’t write down whose recipe it is or what book it came from, so if there are any sleuths out there who can clue me in to its origin, please do. Otherwise we’ll all just have to wait until I go to see my sister again.
It is called “Buttermilk Country Cake” and I am positive it is from a Maida Heatter-influenced cookbook. I made a Pear Upside-Down Cake using an actual Maida Heatter buttermilk cake recipe for a dinner party in Alaska, and it was just not the same. For starts, the M. H. version was enormous in comparison, like double-size the progeny’s version, and for seconds, it was a bit drier and tougher (though for that I’ll point to my probable overbeating of batter. M. H. is not to be messed with). The recipe I have for you here is moist-er than the popular Gourmet Magazine buttermilk cake recipe floating about online. For me, it is just right.
This is the kind of cake that can sit around for a week and still be good, or that you can cut a big hunking wedge from to wrap and eat on a trip someplace, the experience of which may give you very romantic feelings of being a character in a pre-modern novel. Another terrific feature of this cake is that it is a good treatment for fruit that has just slipped over the edge of ripeness (if you are anything like me, overripe fruit is not something that can eaten without treatment). You could certainly swap in another fruit of your choosing.
What I also like about this cake is that the pears acquire a really lovely pink tinge to them after baking. To my mind there is something kissable about the simple appearance and fragrance of it right after it has been flipped and the first warm slice has been cut, something along the lines of a night light or a glass of milk. In fact, it would probably go well with both of those things — just be careful not to lose any crumbs in the bedsheets.
Some fruit, preferably pears
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup buttermilk (you can fake this with 1 part milk to 2 parts plain yogurt)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sifted AP flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
8 Tbsp. soft unsalted butter, cut into chunks
If you have a 9″ springform pan, that is ideal. If not, a 9″ cake pan will do. Butter your pan well, both bottom and sides.
Take a quantity of overripe pears — Bartlett, Bosc, any variety will do — and peel, core, and slice them. Arrange them in the bottom of your pan. If you like to be fancy about it you can spiral them or spell out someone’s name or somesuch, or if you’re not feeling like it, you can just dump them in.
Preheat your oven to 350. In a bowl, combine the yolks, about a quarter of the buttermilk (don’t fuss here; just add a few spoonfuls to the mix), and the vanilla. In a larger bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
In the large bowl containing the dry ingredients, add the butter and the remaining bit of buttermilk and beat until just combined. Then add the egg mixture in 3 parts until just combined.
Pour & smooth into the pan over the pears. Pop into the oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Let cool; if you are using the springform, remove the sides; strategically place your serving plate on top and 1-2-3 flip. Gently remove the pan and patch up the stuck fruity parts if there are any.
Makes one 9″ cake