I like this cake not too sweet and only use 1/2 cup of brown sugar in the cake batter, but feel free to up it to a full cup for a sweeter cake.
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: 1 9-inch cake
- 2 pears
- 6 Tbsp. bourbon, pear nectar, or apple cider - divided
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1/2 - 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 2 cups all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
- 3/4 cups plain yogurt (whole, low-fat, or nonfat) or buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Liberally grease a 9-inch cake pan. For extra insurance against sticking, you can also cut a 9-inch circle of baking parchment paper, lay it on the greased cake pan bottom, and grease the parchment - this step is fully optional. I've made this cake plenty of times without parchment paper, but when I have it on hand, I like to use it.
- Quarter, core, and peel the pears. Cut four of the quarters into thin wedge slices. Arrange them in a fan pattern (or however you'd like, really) in the prepared pan and set aside. Roughly chop the other four pear quarters, put them in a blender with 2 Tbsp. of the bourbon, pear nectar, or apple cider, and whirl until smoothly pureed. Set aside.
- Spread pecans on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 10 minutes. Set a timer and watch them carefully - pecans burn easily! Let them cool, roughly chop them, and set them aside.
- In a large frying pan, bring the sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook until the sugar syrup starts to turn golden. Swirl the pan to even out the coloring and continue cooking until the syrup is a dark caramel color. This will happen quite quickly once the syrup starts to color, so pay close attention!
- Once the syrup has caramelized, take it off the heat, immediately add the remaining 4 Tbsp. bourbon, pear nectar, or apple cider. The part of the syrup where you add the liquid will seize up - keep swirling the pan to incorporate all the syrup and liquid together. Add 1/2 of the chopped pecans, and pour the pecan-laden syrup over the pears in the pan. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer or large bowl using an electric beater, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and creamy looking. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating for at least 30 seconds between each egg (this beating builds the structure of the cake, so don't skip it!). Beat in the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg. Beat in half the flour, then the pureed pear mixture, then the remaining flour, then the yogurt or buttermilk. Beat thoroughly after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The batter will be quite thick. Stir in the remaining pecans.
- Spoon all the batter on top of the pears and spread it as evenly as possible.
- Bake until a knife or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. If you can possibly manage it, let the cake cool thoroughly before slicing - it will slice cleaner and the flavor from the caramel top will penetrate more of the cake.