Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

Inspired by my pineapple upside down cake and apple upside down cake recipes, this boldly spiced upside down pear gingerbread cake combines your favorite holiday spices with juicy pears, brown sugar caramel sauce, and whipped cream. Serving warm brings out the flavors AND makes this a quick holiday dessert.

Slice of upside-down pear gingerbread cake topped with whipped cream

I’m convinced you need no other cake this holiday season.

Today I’m serving you boldly spiced gingerbread with buttery brown sugar soaked pears and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. There’s plenty of ginger, plenty of cinnamon, plenty of pears, and absolutely zero apologies. Ready to indulge?

Squares of upside down pear gingerbread topped with whipped cream

I have the pleasure of working with Harry & David on two recipes this holiday season– both highlighting their hand-picked Royal Riviera pears. These buttery pears steal the attention no matter which dish, dessert, or spread they’re in. Cranberry Pear Crumble Pie, shared just the other week, is no exception. The cranberries and brown sugar crumble are both fantastic, but the high quality pears win 1st place. Their texture is unbeatable and dare I say that pie beats all other Thanksgiving pies!! Even you, pumpkin pie.

hands holding a Harry & David Royal Riviera Pear

Box of Harry and David Pears

How to Make Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

I’m especially excited about this recipe because I used my gingerbread snack cake as the base, both a personal and reader favorite.

There are 3 parts to Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake.

  1. Pears
  2. Brown sugar caramel sauce
  3. Gingerbread

Peel and slice your pears, then tightly line them up in your cake pan. Don’t skimp on pears here– they’ll cook down, so the more the better. We’ll layer a brown sugar butter sauce on top. Melt butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon together on the stove, then pour all over the pears. This will be the TOP of your upside-down pear gingerbread; consider it the cake’s built-in frosting. 😉

2 images of pears in the bottom of a square baking dish and cake batter on top of pears before baking

The gingerbread cake is soft, moist, and robust– the virtual opposite of any dry or bland gingerbreads you’ve had before. It’s made with the best ingredients in your pantry: molasses, brown sugar, ginger, cloves, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. If this cake doesn’t scream HAPPY HOLIDAYS, I’m not sure what does.

A Sticky Situation!

One special note about this gingerbread batter: hot water. It’s an odd ingredient in cake, but there’s a reason for its addition. Molasses is very thick and very sticky. Its consistency makes it very difficult to seamlessly mix into cake batter. When mixed with hot water, its viscous consistency loosens. Problem solved, cake success.

Spread the gingerbread batter over the pear topping.

Gingerbread cake batter in a square pan

slice of upside-down pear gingerbread with whipped cream

You can bake this gingerbread in a variety of cake pans. My directions for varying pan sizes are in the recipe notes below. Whichever size pan you use, the trick to upside-down cakes is to let them cool for only 10-20 minutes before inverting over. Once flipped over, lift the baking pan straight up to reveal all those luscious pears. A topping is so good, it glistens!

I recommend serving this cake warm. Serving warm not only brings out the flavor, but it cuts down on the total time this dessert takes. QUICK is always welcomed when you’re entertaining. Compared to most holiday desserts, this is literally a cake-walk.

Serve the upside down gingerbread cake with either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Cool and creamy always balances warm and spiced. Plus, you can’t have holiday dessert without an accessory on top. 🙂

slice of upside down pear gingerbread with whipped cream on a white plate

Pear Gingerbread in summary:

  • pineapple upside down cake but with holiday flavor
  • spicy, moist, flavorful gingerbread
  • brown sugar caramel sauce
  • QUICK cake compared to others
  • whipped cream!!
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Slice of upside-down pear gingerbread cake topped with whipped cream

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 9-12
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This boldly spiced upside-down pear gingerbread cake combines your favorite holiday spices with juicy pears, brown sugar caramel sauce, and cool whipped cream. Serving warm brings out the flavors AND makes this a quick holiday dessert.


Ingredients

Topping

  • 4 firm medium pears
  • 1/2 cup (115g; 1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Gingerbread Cake

  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) unsulphured or dark molasses
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) hot water (about 100°F (38°C))
  • 1/2 cup (115g; 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (67g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • for serving: whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Instructions

  1. Prepare the topping: Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Peel, core, and slice pears into 1/8-inch thick slices. Tightly layer the pears in the prepared pan, as pictured above. Set aside.
  2. Whisking constantly, heat the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once butter has melted, vigorously whisk to ensure the butter is not separating from the brown sugar. Once it comes together (it will, keep whisking!), pour evenly over pears.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  4. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt together. Set aside. Whisk the molasses and hot water together. Set aside.
  5. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. Turn the mixer off and add the dry ingredients and molasses/water. Turn the mixer on low and mix just until combined. The batter will be a little thick.
  6. Carefully pour/spread batter on top of pears. Bake for around 35-45 minutes or until the cake is baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If you notice the edges or top browning too quickly, tent the cake with aluminum foil.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then invert cake onto a serving plate. Cake will be moist! Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: Prepare the topping in the baking pan, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. It’s best to serve this cake right away; not ideal for making ahead.
  2. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer | Peeler | Square Baking Pan | Rainbow Whisk
  3. Variety of Cake Sizes: 9-inch square pan, 9-inch deep dish round pan (2 inch depth at least), 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet, or an 11×7 inch baking pan. Bake time is around the same. Do not use a springform pan– topping will leak.

136 Comments

  1. Christine Johnson says:

    What is the trick for the caramel topping? Mine just wouldn’t come together. The first attempt ended up burnt and the second ended up in a hard candy when it cooled. Am I cooking too hot? Too long?

    1. Hi Christine, could be both. Whisk constantly as the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon cook together. You may want to use a sturdier saucepan if you have one and reduce the heat to medium-low. If it begins separating or isn’t coming together, remove from heat and vigorously whisk until it comes together.

  2. Christine Lemieux says:

    Oh my! This cake is delicious! I followed the recipe, except I used the fancy molasses I had on hand. It was done in 40 minutes. I may try unsulphured molasses next time. Thank you for a great recipe.

  3. Christine Currie says:

    You think using gluten free flour would work in this recipe?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Christine, We haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flour but let us know if you try!

  4. Divya Saighal says:

    Sally, I would love to turn this into loaves to give as gifts. Will half the batter make a nice loaf?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Divya, You can try dividing this between two loaf pans or cutting the recipe in half for one loaf pan. We haven’t tested it so I’m unsure of the exact bake time needed (same oven temperature), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. When you insert a toothpick into the center of the cake, if it comes out clean, it’s done.

    2. Rachel Helfing says:

      I did this last night! The loaves turned out great — the hardest part was finding another container to put them in, since the loaf pans I used slant out a little. Oven temp was the same, but bake time was shorter. I started checking at 20 minutes and ended up pulling it at around 30 minutes. Good luck!

  5. Is is possible to take this cake to a friend’s house for dinner? If so, should I bake it before I leave and reheat it there? Bake it, remove it from the pan, and serve at room temperature? Or should I bake it there while we are having dinner?
    Thanks.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Linda, Honestly you can do it however is easier for you! For ease, I would bake it and invert it at home and then just bring it on a tray to serve at room temperature.

      1. Thank you, Stephanie!

  6. Sheena Meeuwsen says:

    Hello Sally, I absolutely love your recipes!! They are my favorite! Here’s my question…can I add a cup of cranberries to this recipe like you did for the apple upside down cake? Is there anything else to do differently if they’re added? Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sheena! That should work perfectly – we suggest reducing the pears to 3 instead of 4 to account for the extra fruit in the topping. Hope you love it.

  7. Jennifer Allen says:

    Could this be made in a Bundt pan? I want it to look a little fancier for Christmas. Maybe add some mint leaves and cranberries to look like a wreath.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jennifer, There is not enough batter here for a Bundt pan and unfortunately, we haven’t tested it in a larger quantity to be sure! Let us know what you try!

  8. Hi there! This recipe looks absolutely scrumptious! I’m an American living in the UK and this just feels like a taste of home. It’s more difficult to find molasses in the UK, though, so I’m wondering if you have a good substitute. For example, is there a combination of ingredients that would give me a similar flavour?

    Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Steph, Unfortunately, molasses (and ginger of course) is the main flavor in gingerbread. I recommend making this spice cake instead and using this pear topping. You may need a couple more pears since that recipe yields a 9×13 inch baking pan. The amount of brown sugar caramel sauce is enough. (The 1 Tbsp of molasses in that recipe is optional.)
      Or if you want to experiment a bit with this recipe, black treacle is similar to pure molasses, but it’s generally described as a slightly burnt, bitter version of molasses. You can use it but the final taste of the cake may be a bit different. Or try using half black treacle and half maple syrup. Let us know what you try!

      1. Hi Stephanie! Thank you for being so helpful! The recipe you suggested looks absolutely gorgeous. I’ll let you know how it turns out! Happy Holidays 🙂

  9. I made this to follow Christmas dinner. Did the topping part part then night before and baked the cake after dinner. Baked it in a round pan with the pears set up in a circle. It was excellent, very pretty and everyone loved it . An overall win.

  10. Rachel Eckstein says:

    Made this cake over the weekend and everyone loved it! I one and halved the recipe to fit in a 9×13 pan and it worked well. I only added the 3/4 cup of molasses and it was plenty strong in the cake anyway. I will definitely cut the molasses when I make the cake again in it’s original size. Yum!

  11. Kimberly Willison says:

    LOVE, love, love all of your recipes and the detailed instruction that comes with them – thank you! I’m not a big fan of pears – is there another fruit that you feel would be a good compliment to the cake? 🙂

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kimberly, a few readers have reported success using apples instead — let us know if you give it a try!

  12. Sarah Sheehy says:

    Hi is there any chance of doing this as a layer cake so make 2 of these cakes but leave out the pears in one of them, let that be the bottom, put a layer of buttercream in between and possibly do a naked icing around the outside but skipping the top where the pears would be shown after it was flipped over when cooked, sorry if this sounds complicated but I made a dessert similar to this and my fiancé absolutely loved it, he said it was the nicest dessert he ever ate but as I’m after getting into cake decorating I’d like to make a celebration cake version of this if its possible?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sarah! We haven’t tried it personally, but that should work out okay if you leave the pears off the bottom layer (otherwise we fear it would be too slippery). You might also want to use cake dowels just for a bit of extra support. If you decide to give it a try, we’d love to know how it goes!

      1. Sarah Sheehy says:

        Thank you for your swift and detailed reply, just a silly question, where exactly would I insert the dowels?

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