Upside-Down Pear & Polenta Cake

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Preparation info

    • Difficulty


Appears in

The Sugar Club Cookbook

By Peter Gordon

Published 1997

  • About

This cake is a particular favourite of mine and I have made it in every restaurant I’ve worked in in London. I invented it because of a desire to have more dairy-free desserts in my repertoire when I was on a dairy-free diet. The irony is that it’s best served with lashings of whipped cream! I’ve also made a successful version using rhubarb in place of the pears. Adding ground spices to the batter is another way of varying the taste.



  • 380g (13½oz) demerara sugar (and some for sprinkling)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 vanilla pod (seeds only)
  • 250ml (9fl oz) vegetable oil
  • 250ml (9fl oz) chardonnay
  • 300g (11oz) plain flour
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • 120g (oz) polenta grains, sieved to remove lumps
  • 6 sweet pears


  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 pears, peeled, cored and diced into 1cm (⅓in) pieces
  • Juice and zest of 2 lemons


Set the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Line the base of a deep 25cm (10in) spring-form cake tin with baking parchment and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of demerara sugar. Beat the eggs, vanilla seeds and sugar for 1 minute, then beat in the oil and the wine for 30 seconds. Sift the flour, baking powder and polenta, add and mix well. Peel the pears, cut into sixths and core. Arrange the pears on the sugar in the cake tin in a fan pattern, pour on the batter and put in the oven. After 30 minutes cover the tin loosely with foil and cook for another 30 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer – keep cooking until it comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then turn out and pour on the topping.

To make the topping, bring the sugar and water to the boil in a deepsided pot, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once it’s dissolved keep on a vigorous boil but don’t stir. Cook until the syrup turns into a dark golden caramel, then gently but quickly add the pear pieces. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring the mixture gently, before adding the lemon zest and juice. Turn to a simmer and cook until the pears are tender.