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Three-Tier Candied-Pecan Cake with Brown-Butter Pears


This cake can be made in advance, but we love it when the filling is warm and syrupy. If you have about 20 minutes to make the filling just before assembling the cake, go for it.

  • Prep:
  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 10
  • Yield: Makes one 8-inch cake

Photography: Johnny Miller

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2011


For the Candied Pecans

  • 2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Cake

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 3 large egg whites

For the Pear Filling

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 Anjou pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch wedges, and tossed with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For the Bourbon Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar
  • Garnish: 1/3 cup chopped pecans


  1. Candy the pecans: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss toasted pecans with butter, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring to coat halfway through, until toasted, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

  2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a bowl. Beat butter and 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in candied pecans.

  3. Beat egg whites in a clean bowl with a mixer on high speed until frothy. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold one-third of the egg whites into the batter using a rubber spatula. Fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions.

  4. Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.

  5. Meanwhile, make the pear filling: Brown butter in a skillet over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Cook pears, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 6 minutes.

  6. Make the bourbon whipped cream: Whisk cream, bourbon, and confectioners' sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

  7. Trim tops of cakes to create a level surface using a serrated knife. Transfer 1 cake to a platter. Spread half the pears over the top. Top with another cake. Spread remaining pears over the top. Top with remaining cake. Spread whipped cream over the top. Garnish with chopped pecans.

Cook's Notes

Layered cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Top with whipped cream just before serving.

Reviews Add a comment

  • thefenngirls
    19 NOV, 2013
    Does anyone know the adjustments for high altitude? Approx. 6000 feet? Would LOVE to make this for thanksgiving!
  • Born2run9
    15 NOV, 2013
    Did a test run prior to Thanksgiving, glad I did. My pears were ripe and quickly got mushy- use firmer pears. Found cake had more of a coffee cake texture, not really cake like but perhaps the dense texture is needed to support the pears. I used Brandy since I had no bourbon and was very good. Mixed reviews from family but will take for Thanksgiving since I was looking for something not too sweet or rich.
  • Kathryn1960
    23 NOV, 2012
    I baked this cake and then read the reviews when I went to pin it on my "Best thing I ever made" board. I was worried because the reviews were not very kind. BUT everyone thought it was yummy. All the flavors work together. This is a good addition to the dessert buffet and I can't wait to have a piece the Day AFTER Thanksgiving for breakfast. You need to give this one a try. Worth the effort.
  • neptunecello
    18 DEC, 2011
    I made this for a Christmas party last night. While guests raved about it, I was mildly disappointed. As another reviewer said, the cake wasn't particularly fluffy, despite the folded-in egg-whites. In fact, when cut, it was a little bit dry & crumbly. The presentation (before being cut), however, is quite stunning, especially for a party. I definitely recommend using more spices for the batter itself - not just in the candied pecans. More cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.
  • gracemliu
    4 DEC, 2011
    This recipe was decent although the cake wasn't as fluffy as I thought it was going to be. Usually folding in beaten egg whites results in sponge-like cakes, but this one was not. Also, I strongly do not recommend adding bourbon to the whipped creamed topping. I did and it was way too strong. Perhaps a milder liquor such as Kahlua or Baileys would work better.
  • gracemliu
    2 DEC, 2011
  • Anarie
    25 NOV, 2011
    This was fabulous! The cake was moist, even though I mistakenly used 9" pans instead of 8" and consequently overbaked it. The only thing I would change is to increase the pears. I think you could use about 6-7 without the layers slipping. I couldn't use alcohol in the whipped cream because there were children among the guests, but I think a pear or apple brandy would be nicer than bourbon. I added a drop each of almond and orange extract, which was better than plain cream.