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

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?

Upside down pear gingerbread recipe

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.

Harry & David Royal Riviera Pears

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. 😉

How to make upside-down pear gingerbread recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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

Upside-down pear gingerbread with whipped cream on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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. 🙂

Upside down pear gingerbread recipe

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.

113 Comments

  1. Can this be made dairy free? What can I sub for the butter? A vegetable shortening or coconut oil?

    1. Hi Maria! I haven’t tested it, but you can try coconut oil.

    2. I used plant butter avocado and it came out great.

  2. Sally, I’m going to make this Christmas Eve and serve to my family for Christmas breakfast. It’s not going to be able to awful in a day, right?!

    1. Jenn,
      Did you make it ahead? I’d like to make it the night before and I’m trying to decide if it’s going to be OK. Thanks!

      1. I think I did. It’s been a year since. My baking pan was too small, the syrup got in the bottom of the oven and got my oven Smoky, and the house. I had to take the cake out and it was undone and… it ended up in the trash. Boo. Sorry I can’t help you!

  3. I made this for dessert today for Christmas and it turned out amazing! I’ve never made an upside down cake before. The flavors are amazing and everyone loved it! Even my husband, who claims he doesn’t like gingerbread!

  4. This was a delicious, less sweet option for Christmas dessert. I really liked the spice aspect of it. I did reduce the amount of molasses to 1/2 cup because another reviewer felt that 3/4 was too much. I really enjoyed the taste of it, so I might up it to the original if I make it again. Some tips though: don’t make this in a pan with a removal bottom because the butter/sugar mixture will leak out of the bottom and cause smoke in the oven and a whole slew of issues. Also, don’t put it in too deep of a pan because when you flip it, the height of the fall to the serving plate may break the cake. But you can smush it back together. Not that I have any experience with these things lol

  5. It was amazing! I halved the recipe and used a 9 by 5 loaf pan and it turned out perfect!

  6. Thanks for the delicious recipie! I used a 9×9 inch baking dish but my cake overflowed in the oven and made a big mess 🙁 Next time, I will definetely use a larger pan.

  7. I’ve made this twice now, once with pears & once with apples. I added pecans to the topping & a generous amount of shredded fresh ginger to the batter. It was wonderful!

    You definitely need a 9″x2″ pan for this recipe or it will overflow. Or you can pour the extra batter into some muffin cups, but since I will be making this again & again, I’m going to buy a taller pan. 🙂

  8. There’s no baking powder in recipe? Is that not needed for rise ?

    1. Use baking soda. Baking soda is most often used when molasses is present.

      1. how much baking soda?

      2. 1 teaspoon!

  9. Josee Marchessault says:

    I just made this cake. I used a round 9 inch pan. The only change I made is I added fresh grated ginger. 1/2 tbsp to the cake batter, 1/2 tbsp to the caramel. The cake looks amazing, the house smells amazing, and bonus I had leftover batter to make 4 small gingerbread cupcakes for my son who is not a big fan of fruit cakes. Will make again for sure!

  10. This is just as good and maybe better the next day!!

  11. Hi Sally, Can I make this in a bundt cake tin?

    1. Hi Sadia, There is not enough batter here for a bundt pan and I haven’t tested it in a larger quantity to be sure!

      1. Thank you so much, Sally,
        for responding.

  12. Have you tried to stack this cake? I think that would be incredible!

    1. Hi Susan! I haven’t. The topping would be a little too slippery.

  13. this is amazing! It was a huge hit at a dinner I hosted, and its been added to my yearly Christmas baking list. It packs a great flavor!

  14. I want to make this for Christmas dinner but don’t want to have to whip it up during the festivities. I read your comment that you can make the topping in advance, so I will definitely do that. Can I prepare the cake batter a few hours before baking or will it deflate or something?

    1. Hi Jaclyn! You can, but I don’t recommend making it more than 1-2 hours before baking it. Best to bake the cake batter as soon after mixing it up as you can. You can, however, prep the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then combine them right before baking.

      1. Thank you so much for replying! I did just that: I mixed the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately earlier in the day and combined them just before baking. It worked out perfectly! Everyone loved it, so I will definitely make it again. It tastes just like Christmas, warm and comforting.
        Believe it or not there was a little bit left. I ate it the next day and it was still delicious, but I agree that it should be eaten warm. The next day it was a bit gooey from the topping soaking into the cake.

  15. Michelle Barboza says:

    Delicious! As luck would have it, I received a box of Harry & David pears and was looking for a Christmas cake to make. My family and friends raved.

  16. Made this last night for our holiday dinner and it was simply fantastic. Like others mentioned above, since it’s best served warm, I had a bit of a timing problem which I solved by making the cake right up to the point of baking and then set it aside for 2 hours. I put it in the oven right as we sat down for dinner and it finished at the perfect time to come out of the oven and then cool for a few minutes before serving. The cake itself was moist and flavorful and the pear topping had just the right of sweetness. Thank you for a wonderful recipe it was a great change and is one I will definitely come back to in the future.

  17. Made this on Christmas day and it was delicious!
    I was honestly worried about flipping the cake. But I waited 15 minutes, like you said, and it worked perfectly!
    Great recipe. Thank you very much!!

  18. Hi. Can I use black treacle instead of dark molasses?

    1. Hi Beena, 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.

      1. Thanks Sally …I bought the black treacle as it was an ingredient in another gingerbread recipe …I think one of the English Bakers … we do like the slight bitterness that sometimes comes with gingerbread. 🙂

        if I can’t find dark molasses at the Super market, is there anything else I can substitute for it? I live in Singapore, where it’s sometimes difficult to get certain items.

      2. Go ahead and try it in this recipe – if you enjoy it in another gingerbread recipe then you should enjoy it here too! Let me know if you try it!

      3. Actually! Don’t worry! I found a bottle of dark Molasses tucked away in my baking cupboard 🙂 Sorry for the bother

    2. Diane Teague says:

      I’m a Brit you can substitute half the black treacle for golden syrup to get the right sweetness that molasses would have.

  19. I made it! And it was delicious! So light, moist, flavourful and most importantly for me, not overly sweet! Hubby was asking for more ginger flavour so I might go for fresh ginger next time. Thank you for sharing this lovely recipe.

  20. Joan Lockhart says:

    I made this cake earlier in the day and did not reheat it. It was delicious in flavor although VERY dense. Today, I reheated a piece in the microwave and it was fabulous!
    I used blackstrap molasses (dark) and it was a bit overpowering. I will try it with regular molasses next time. And I must have had my water/molasses mixture too hot because my batter was very runny. (Perhaps it melted the butter?) Anyway, will try again because the flavor was simply scrumptious! And I may add some finely chopped crystalized ginger to the pears for an extra “bite” of ginger.

  21. I baked this today in a BUNDT pan, because I didn’t have a 9″ pan. I also substituted a 50/50 blend of yogurt and cooking oil for the butter in the batter. It turned out AMAZING. (wish I could post a photo here, as I don’t use Instagram)) Thanks for the great recipe, Sally. You are my “go to” for baking.

  22. Great recipe. I’ve made this three times now and loved it. In a circular tin because we didn’t have a square one. Be careful when pouring the batter on top of the caramel to make sure the caramel isn’t all on the edges. That’s about all I’d suggest. Love it!

  23. Nice cake, easy forgiving recipe. We’re eating it now. I followed the recipe, but our pears were ripe and one of them was an apple. The cake is nicely fluffy with a subtle molasses flavor and a slightly chewy/crisp caramelized crust. The fruit topping is a nice contrast – not too sweet, balanced.
    I used “super flex” all purpose flour from the Baking Authority. Maybe it helped fluff the cake?
    The problem with these cakes is they don’t last very long. Plus we’ll be rolling up and fown the stairs instead of walking if I keep working through these recipes.

  24. Wow, this is a copy of the Epicurious recipe, right? Just made it from their 2002 recipe, googled it to find the recipe again, yours showed up further upstream, but dated 2018. NM, it’s delicious!

    1. Hi Mary, I haven’t seen a 2002 recipe like this on that website. I adapted this recipe from my Gingerbread Snack Cake which is something my mother used to make. I was curious and found a gingerbread cake dated 2002 but it looks like the recipes are quite different. Mine uses more butter, less egg, more flour, no baking powder, less brown sugar, more molasses, and less water. Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss further. Thanks for your feedback!

  25. Sarah Simon says:

    Hi Sally,

    So excited to have found you today. I made this yummy cake. So delicious. I know this is a stupid question probably but do you wrap any leftovers in glad wrap (plastic wrap) or silver foil to keep it in the fridge. I am really new to cake making and just don’t know this stuff! Thanks so much. Love, Sarah (Melbourne, Australia) x

    1. Welcome to the site, Sarah! I’m so happy you enjoyed this cake. Really either works as long as you wrap it well. You an even use an airtight food storage container.

      1. Sarah Simon says:

        Thanks so much! There’s not too much left now anyway but great advice for next time! Have a beautiful day!

  26. Sally…not sure of how to email a question to you…Please excuse me if this “rating” section is not ok for questions.

    I foresee a timing problem; must prepare it several hours before serving, but would love to serve it warm. Would it be ok to prepare the cake completely, up through the point of inverting it onto the serving plate, and then after 3-4 hours at room temperature, reheat before serving? If so, oven or microwave? Temperature? Time? Tented foil while reheating? Many thanks.

    1. Hi Ann! I’m glad to help. My recommendation is to fully bake the cake as instructed. Keep the cake in the pan (do not invert it yet) until 20-30 minutes before serving. Then place in a 300°F (149°C) oven to re-warm it for about 10-15 minutes, remove from the oven then immediately invert it. This is what I would do!

  27. This is the best gingerbread, if not the best cake, that I’ve ever had. I’m shocked that this isn’t one of your more reviewed recipes because it is SO GOOD!! with a scoop of vanilla ice cream = heaven.
    It survived even being “made” by my 4yo niece where a portion of the dry ingredients ended up in the floor! It still turned out good. I prepped the pears in advance and froze then, then partially thawed them for the assembly. It STILL tasted perfect. The only adjustment I made was to add a bit of fresh “squeeze” ginger.

  28. just wondering if this can be baked, frozen, defrosted and then reheated?

    My organisation skills aren’t good enough to bake a cake on the day of the party

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Anita, Unfortunately it’s best to serve this cake right away; not ideal for making ahead. You can make the topping ahead of time – see recipe notes.

  29. This was such a hit! I will make this again, often!

  30. Hi Sally, what’s the trick to getting the topping seamlessly flipped? I always have the same problem when I make upside-down cakes with some of the sauce/fruit staying behind in the tin when I flip it over. I’ve tried parchment paper, no parchment, super buttering… but always the same result. It’s not the end of the world to spoon out the remaining fruit and sauce and rearrange the top of the cake, but it’s a bit frustrating after having painstakenly arranged my fruit the first time! Any tips?
    (Awesome cake, by the way).

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