Pears can be a wonderful fruit to bake with and they’re featured in some of my favorite fall desserts, including Double Crust Pear Pie and Honey and Cinnamon Roasted Pears. This Sticky Maple Pear Cake is yet another fantastic option when you find yourself with a few extra pears on hand. The richly flavored cake is made with a generous amount of maple syrup and brown sugar, along with cinnamon, allspice and vanilla. There is just enough spice to contrast with the sweet pears, but not enough to overwhelm the toffee-like flavor of the maple. It’s an elegant dessert that tastes like comfort food in every bite!
When I first started to work on this cake recipe, my intention was to make a variation on Sticky Toffee Pudding that included pears. Some of my experiments ended up being overly sweet and pears have such a delicate flavor that it can actually be overwhelmed by a sauce that is too strongly flavored. Maple syrup turned out to be the key, as it’s flavor stands out without overshadowing the delicate natural sweetness of the pears. The cake is made with a slightly unusual method where some of the ingredients are cooked into a syrup, then the syrup is added to the rest of the ingredients to form the batter. The maple syrup – because it is a fairly unrefined product – may cause the cooked syrup to look a bit cloudy as you prepare it, but don’t worry, because it will even out in the end. The maple will give the cake a deep flavor and it goes just as well with the pears.
Originally, I intended to sprinkle chopped pecans on top of this cake, as pecans go so well with both pears and maple syrup. Unfortunately, I discovered that I was out of pecans – or, to be more accurate, that I had used all of them making candied pecans – just before putting this cake into the oven, so I used sliced almonds instead. The almonds worked just as well and added a little bit of texture to the top of the cake. I also sprinkled on a little coarse sugar, just to give everything a nice finish. Feel free to omit the nuts if you prefer your pears to be nut-free.
This cake is best served when it is still slightly warm from the oven, fruit cobber-style. When warm, the cake is incredibly fragrant and the juicy pears are bursting with flavor. The cake is still delicious after it cools, but the pears will release some additional juices and the cake may be soggy if you wait longer than 24 hours or so to finish up the leftovers, unless you stick it in the fridge. In that case, I recommend warming up the slices to serve them. Serve the cake as-is or top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Sticky Maple Pear Cake
3 large pears (pref. Bartlett)
7 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp sliced almonds
1 tbsp coarse sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate (pref. deep-dish).
Peel pears and cut them in half, removing the seeds and stems.
In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and mixture has thickened slightly. Caramel may foam. Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes (warm, but not hot).
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice. Add in milk, egg and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Pour in cooled maple syrup mixture and whisk until batter is smooth. Pour into prepared pan.
Arrange 6 pear halves in the batter, cut-side-up. Sprinkle with almonds and sugar.
Bake cake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow cake to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.