Introduced in the 1930s, when cast-iron skillets were more commonly found in kitchens than baking pans, the upside-down, or skillet, cake has survived eras of modernization to remain a beloved dessert. Today, Martha puts a seasonal twist on this old-fashioned favorite, eschewing the classic pineapple for sweet and juicy Bartlett pears -- large, bell-shaped fruits with smooth, yellow-green skin.

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Ingredients

FOR THE TOPPING
FOR THE BATTER

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Make the topping: Melt butter in the bottom of a 10 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat. Add brown sugar, stirring until dissolved. Swirl to coat the bottom; remove from heat, and cool. Cut pears into 1/4-inch-thick wedges, and arrange them in a circular pattern over the brown-sugar mixture to cover completely; set aside.

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  • Make the batter: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract; beat to combine. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating to combine.

  • Alternating with the milk, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix, on low speed, just until the flour is incorporated.

  • In a large bowl, beat reserved egg whites and the cream of tartar with a hand mixer until stiff but not dry. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg whites into the batter. Transfer to skillet. Using an offset spatula, spread the batter evenly, being careful not to disturb the pears.

  • Bake until well browned on top and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan, and immediately invert the cake onto a serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cook's Notes

When spreading the batter, be careful not to disturb the pears, which, after the cake is baked and inverted and the fruit is caramelized, will grace its top much in the way apples do a tarte Tatin.

Reviews (8)

121 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 26
  • 4 star values: 29
  • 3 star values: 45
  • 2 star values: 17
  • 1 star values: 4
Rating: 5.0 stars
02/26/2020
I was looking for a recipe to use my fresh pears. Was hesitant since it was marked three stars but I have to tell you this is a new favorite!! I used to love pineapple upside down cake but this exceeds it! The cake is delicate with the folded in egg whites. I used self rising flour and fresh Bartlett pears.
Rating: 4 stars
04/06/2019
Very light and moist. I added 3/4 teaspoons each of powdered ginger and cinnamon to give it a bit of spice. It came out lovely. I will make this recipe again.
Rating: 5 stars
09/22/2018
This turned out perfectly! The light flavors of the pears and the caramel flavor from the brown sugar in the cake are a delicious combination.
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Rating: Unrated
01/03/2015
I love this cake and so does my family! Does anyone have any hints about freezing it?
Rating: 5 stars
01/01/2015
I have made this cake three times. It is one of the best cakes I have ever made. It is light and fluffy and not too sweet.
Rating: Unrated
09/02/2012
Since finding this recipe years ago, this has been my families favorite cake. This is a cake I will make the rest of my life because it is just.....so special and beautiful! Since finding out that I cannot have wheat anymore, I have still made this cake. The only thing to do different is to use a cup and a half of Pamela's Mix and leave out the baking powder. It is still beautiful and wonderful.
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Rating: 5 stars
03/04/2012
This was hands down one of the best cakes I've tasted in awhile. I know that sounds like a tall order to fill but from the very first bite, it was light and fluffy which was a pleasant surprise from the dense, overly cloyingly sweet cake I was so dreading. Made in a springform pan and had the caramel sauce on top of the pears. Will make again... possibly tomorrow after I devour the whole cake today.
Rating: 5 stars
03/04/2012
yum
Rating: Unrated
08/20/2008
This was a delicious cake to make with my home grown pears. It isn't to sweet and pairs beautifully with coffee. It's perfect for family get togethers since everybody can enjoy it (my 2 year old did). The only down side is all the bowls you have to clean after it's made. I will make it again and again.