Caramelized Pear Upside Down Cake and Homemade Coffee Liqueur

We’re turning 1!  Unbelievably it was a year ago Christianna, author of Burwell General Store approached Lindsay, author of the blog Rosemarried, to endeavor a recipe swap idea.  The concept being a recipe would be selected monthly from a vintage hymnal-cum-cookbook that would have at least 3 things changed but stay true to the intent of the original recipe then shared.  A month later she asked me to join in and the rest is history.
Christianna asked us to reflect on how we’ve grown in the last year for this special anniversary post.  I had never done anything like this before she asked me.  I would have called myself at best a ‘recipe compiler’ which was more a function of creatively cleaning out the fridge; certainly not a recipe innovator.  I took the task very seriously, did a lot of research and actually began to create recipes from scratch. 

That experience has built on itself and has deposited me here, happy to try to whip something up from scratch, and not just on a wing and a prayer.  It has certainly forced me to think outside the box, never liking to produce something expected.  I’ve had the opportunity to re-create international cuisine I’ve loved, create a cocktail pairing with each dish as my ‘swap signature’ and most of all form a camaraderie with an extraordinary group of international bloggers who’d I’d call ‘Sisters….and Chef Dennis’.  He too is like ‘the sister I never had’ to me which I’m sure will make him very proud to know.

In all seriousness to Christianna, thank you, for taking the time and courage to venture this experiment.  I now cannot imagine a month without it or you!
This month’s vintage recipe was one I actually wanted to make in its original form.  It felt approachable to me, unlike some others I have found downright scary.  As this time of the year feels like a vinyl record being played too fast, it becomes cartoon-like in speed and the food goes along with it as we stuff ourselves joyfully often on pure crap.  This recipe felt like taking it down a notch, enjoying the season in a more simple way.
I’ve been coveting pears of late.  Being in prime season they call to me with their varying shapes and sizes, encouraging beautiful tarts and cakes.  I loved the Plum Upside Down Cake I made in September and decided to use that as inspiration along with the seasoning from the vintage recipe to come up with my contribution: Caramelized Pear Upside Down Cake.  The use of almond flour along with all purpose flour gives is a subtle sweetness and rustic texture I love.  I hope you will too!
Serves: 8-12
·         1 stick unsalted butter, softened
·         2 tablespoons water
·         ½ cup light brown sugar
·         2-3 firm medium-large size pears (I used Red Bartlett from my CSA share), peeled, cored and sliced into 1/8-1/4 inch slices
·         1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour (regular or gluten free)
·         5 tablespoons almond meal or almond flour
·         2/3 cup granulated sugar
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
·         ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
·         1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
·         2/3 cup whole milk
·         2 eggs
·         1 teaspoon vanilla
1.       Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.      Place 3 tablespoons butter into a 9 inch by 2 inch round layer cake plan.  Place in the oven and allow to melt, approximately 3 minutes.  Do not let butter brown.
3.      Removed from oven.  Add brown sugar and water; stir until all combined and sugar is dissolved.  Ensure it is spread evenly in across the bottom of the cake pan.
4.      Layer pear slices overlapped each other, with the larger end of the pear toward the outside of the pan.  Form a circular pattern allowing the pears to cover the entire bottom of the pan.  Set aside.
5.      In a large mixing bowl with handheld mixer or in the bowl of a free standing mixer, combine the all purpose flour, almond flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and spices.
6.      In a separate bowl, cream the butter.  Add milk, eggs and vanilla and mix together (do not over mix).  Pour into the dry flour-sugar mixture and beat to combine fully.
7.      Spoon batter on top of pears in the cake pan.  Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes when toothpick should come out clean and the cake should begin to brown.
8.      Allow cake to cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the inside edge of the cake pan to free up cake.  Place the serving plate upside down on the top of the cake pan (so plate is against the exposed surface of cake).  Carefully turn the plate and cake over so the cake comes out onto the serving tray revealing the pear top.  Be careful as the cake will still be quite warm (if waiting too long the cake will not come out of the pan whole).  Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes; serve warm.


When I first had Kahlua I was underage; there I said it.  BUT I was with a parent.  We were spending a month on the island of Kauai when I was 15.  My grandparents had done a house exchange and we nestled in a darling home to enjoy a month as locals.
My mother had a co-worker friend who’d come along for the vacation.  I don’t remember the circumstances but they took me with them after an early dinner to a dance club of sorts.  I always looked older than my age and the drinking age was 18 in Hawaii at the time.  It was quite early in the evening and there weren’t many people at the venue in fact I remember what I was wearing and that it was sunny.
The waitress came to us and asked what I’d like to drink.  Having no idea and being stuffed to the gills from dinner she suggested I try Kahlua on the rocks.  I of course agreed, not wanting to call attention to myself.  I had never tasted coffee but liked the sweetness of the liqueur as I sipped it gingerly.
As we chatted, the dance music started up.  After watching snobby ‘Mainlanders’ snub the locals, the three of us had made an agreement that we’d dance with anyone who asked us (in hindsight, what the heck kind of agreement is that?) not wanting to be cast in the same disrespectful light. 
Much to my complete horror, I got a tap on the shoulder.  There was a nice, older gentleman standing next to me asking if I’d like to dance.  I was in a state of mental paralysis; this guy was older, I mean OLDER, I was a teenager and most importantly no one was on the dance floor.  I swallowed, smiled at him and agreed.  Did I mention I was 5’ 8” AND wearing 4 inch platform sandals and that he was 3’ 6” (or so it seemed).
The dance seemed to last hours and as it thankfully wound to an end the DJ made an announcement I will never forget, ‘Hey everybody let’s have a round of applause for Johnny out on the dance floor; he’s 84!’.  I turned, completely stricken, to look at my mom who was at risk of needing Paramedic care for the convulsive laughter she and her friend were undergoing. 
I politely thanked 84 year old Johnny and slunk back to our table to be told were I to disobey any rules on our trip all my friends would quickly know about my spin around the dance floor with Johnny. 
Kahlua, or aptly coffee liqueur returned to me in college when I got my hands on a recipe from a friend and began to make it for all friends and relatives for the holidays.  It was a very ‘DIY’ time in my gift-giving life but somehow by my mid twenties the recipe was stashed in a recipe folder I have not looked at until recently.  This seemed a good time to dust it off both as a special edition to our recipe swap but also with the holidays coming up.
Sticking with my local orientation I used 303Vodka for my batch of coffee liqueur (or ‘Kalua’ misspelled on my original recipe card).  It has a distinct taste, unlike many vodkas, and one I felt would lend itself toward the vanilla tones in the liqueur.  I was right; it’s delish.
I laughed when reading my notations on the original recipe card; to use ‘good coffee’ but ‘cheap vodka’.  Deliberate use of cheap alcohol spells only one thing in my mind: H-A-N-G-O-V-E-R.  Also the idea of ‘good instant coffee’ seems like an oxymoron.  Fortunately Starbucks has begun to make instant coffee.  I mixed French Roast and Colombian to make the amount needed for the recipe.
Yield: approximately ½ – ¾ gallon
·         3 ½ cups white sugar
·         ½ cup light brown sugar
·         4 cups water
·         2 ounces powdered instant coffee (‘good coffee’)
·         750 ml vodka
·         2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
1.       Combine white sugar, brown sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally and do not allow to boil over (reduce heat if needed).
2.      Add instant coffee to sugar syrup while syrup is still hot.  Stir to dissolve.  Let cool.
3.      Pour liquid into glass storage jug or container.  Add vodka and vanilla beans.  Let stand for 2 weeks before drinking.  (My original recipe suggests saving the vanilla beans for future batches but I think that was because I was in college with no cash!)
To enjoy all the other swappers ‘spin’ on the vintage recipe, click the links below!


  1. says

    Oh, I can't wait to make both of these! 303Vodka was half off on Groupon or Living Social (don't remember which) and I kicked myself for not getting some on the cheap. After your post on your tour I managed to make it out there. Delicious.

    I made a fig and pear tart a couple weeks ago that was to die for and I I would gladly fit in some more pears before they're gone.

    Also, your story was hilarious.

  2. says

    I was chuckling when I read your Hawaiian story, reliving every mortifying minute of it! Just a year ago I had to come between my 19-yr old and an octogenarian on the dance floor in Yucatan:)
    That pear cake looks amazing – I can almost smell the fruit.
    But my heart stayed with your Kahlua – one of the first hangovers I had as a novice in the U.S. is with Kahlua on the rocks. I have learned to respect it since then and now we are fast friends.
    I am so excited you posted the recipe – I have made several liqueurs this summer using the fruit that was wonderfully fresh, local, and organic (coming from my dad's ranch, and he does not believe in pesticides, even if his apples are the size of a tangerine:) Just an hour ago I served my peach liqueur to a friend who is a master at homemade cordials (I envy her all the years of chemistry she had to endure to become a pharmacist:)
    And thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me, even though we never met (I spent three months in the mountains of Colorado, Winter Park and Granby area as an exchange student, and cannot wait to take my girls back to the continental divide:)

  3. says

    What a wonderful post! Both of the recipes sound delicious! That pear cake has just the right amount of spice, and I am thinking I might have to try making the coffee liqueur. Love your story about dancing with the elderly man :)!

  4. says

    Homemade “kalua!” What a wonderful idea. I now know of a pretty awesome Christmas gift, thanks. Also, I do love how much we were on the same wavelength here. Pears aren't always something I covet but this recipe is lovely.

  5. says

    the sister you never had….hmm, I am honored to be placed in that category, which I will take as being one of great importance to you, that of a best friend, and confident. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I as well hold you in the same esteem, as the sister I never had,and a true friend, you have indeed been a blessing in my life.
    Now lets get to that delicious pear cake and homemade kahula! I may just have to give that a try, I do love kahlua and had no idea it was really that easy to make! As for your dance partner….sigh, I guess that's how all the young girls at the foodbuzz fest looked at me, it's just a good thing they didn't have a dance band!

  6. says

    Such a wonderful post, Toni! I love your gorgeous Caramelized Pear Upside Down Cake…so beautiful and very delicious! The homemade coffee liqueur reminds me of my dear departed sweet aunt, who lived next door to us…she made the liqueur every year for the holidays, to enjoy for the entire year! Love your recipe, and would like to try it:) xoxo

    • says

      Hi Sarah. The word ‘cum’ (pronounced ‘koom’; a preposition of Latin origin) means ‘together with; plus’. So a hymnal-cum-cookbook would be a hymnal combined with a cookbook. Hope that helps!


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