The transformative period between summer and fall are some of my favorite weeks of the year. It’s a time of reestablished routines, warm sunny days, and crisp evenings. The fragrant scent of heavy dew and fallen apples. The feel of dry grass and leaves at the tail end of their vigor. And all that produce pouring from markets and stalls, the colorful bounty of dwindling late summer crops and newly gathered autumn harvests.
Perceptive observers of nature, ancient Chinese cultures acknowledged that the shift from season to season doesn’t happen overnight. Like us, they honored the seasons, but they also honored the transitions between them. Yet they acknowledged that some of these periods more important than others. In fact, practitioners of Chinese medicine consider the roughly six-week phase from mid-August to the autumnal equinox to be so unique in elemental nature that they recognize it as the fifth season of late summer.
This delectable cake celebrates this fifth season by marrying two quintessentially seasonal fruits, perfectly highlighting the shift from the fiery energy of summer to the grounded atmosphere of fall. With their juicy flesh and more pronounced depth of flavor, late summer peaches are my favorite, and this cake is a great way to use up the last of the fruit. Pear season generally lasts from mid-August all the way to winter, depending on the variety, but the freshest Boscs start coming in right around mid-September. Though this heirloom variety isn’t much to look, with its drab leathery-looking brown skin, it’s my absolute favorite type of pear in both texture and flavor. Really, though, any pear will do for this recipe, so long as it’s ripe and juicy but firm enough to retain its shape when cooked.
This moist and flavorful almond cake, spiked with a pop of amaretto, is by its very nature grain-free. There wasn’t much of a need for ingredient-swapping here, other than making the traditional European version, which calls for nut meal in lieu of flour. Regional variations are found in areas of France, Italy, Greece, and Spain. Most almond cakes contain a little flour for added structure, but I was able to replicate the texture and create a springy crumb. You’d hardly guess this cake contains no flour at all.
Most upside-down cakes contain a lot of sugars in the syrupy concoction that cascades down the “top” of the cake and fruit when flipped. For this recipe, I reduced the amount of sugar for a somewhat healthier version. But if you’re looking for that distinctive caramel, simply increase the amount of butter and sugar at the base of your pan (I’d recommend no more than double). Arrange the fruit anyway you like, but keep in mind that your arrangement is the focal point. Make sure that any small blemishes are flipped facing towards you when arranging the slices. Serve this cake warm, at room temperature, or chilled, with a dollop of whipped cream. Great for an afternoon tea and after dinner dessert alike.
Amaretto Peach-Pear Upside Down Cake
Makes 1 (8-inch) cake
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25–30 minutes
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons coconut sugar, plus ¼ cup (or other sweetener of choice) for the batter
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 small Bosc (or other variety) pears, peeled (if desired) and sliced into thick wedges
2 peaches, peeled (if desired) and sliced into thick wedges
1 cup almond meal
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon amaretto (alternately, use ¼ teaspoon additional almond extract)
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, separated
Whipped cream, to serve
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch cake pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper cut to fit. Melt butter in a small pot. Add the 3 tablespoons of coconut sugar and stir to dissolve. Add vanilla and stir through. Pour into base of prepared pan. Add sliced pears and peaches, arranging them over the butter mixture and facing any blemishes up. Set aside.
- Stir together remaining ¼ cup coconut sugar, almond meal, baking powder, salt, amaretto, and almond extract. Add egg yolks and stir to combine.
- Whip egg white using an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into almond meal batter. Pour over arranged fruit in pan.
- Bake in center of oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20–30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on rack for at least 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter. Serve with whipped cream.
Image from Briana Goodall.