This perfect autumn cake is a result of my makeover of an old family recipe, the one from a huge collection of Russian recipes I’m planning to publish someday one way or another.
Feather-soft cardamom-spiced honey cake, sweet caramelized succulent pears, and crunchy walnuts sure make a memorable treat. The cake becomes out-of-this-world fantastic when served slightly warm with vanilla bean and honey ice cream.
Makes one 10-inch round cake, about 12 servings
For the topping:
- 4 tbsp (½ stick; 2 oz) unsalted butter
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 to 3 large ripe but firm Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced vertically into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 1 cup walnut halves and pieces, lightly toasted
For the cake:
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp baking soda 
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 8 tbsp (1 stick; 4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
Make the topping:
Center the oven rack and preheat the oven to 350F before you start making the topping.
In a well seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Swirl the skillet to coat the bottom and the sides with melted butter. Add the brown sugar and honey and simmer, stirring, until most of the sugar is melted, about 2 minutes. Take off the heat. Arrange the pear slices decoratively in concentric circles over the melted sugar. Sprinkle the walnuts between and over the pear slices. Set aside while making the cake batter.
Make the cake:
Whisk the flour, cardamom, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
In another bowl whisk to combine the sour cream and vanilla extract. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for a few seconds, until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the honey and continue mixing for another 2 or 3 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the sour cream, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape the bowl as necessary, and beat only enough to incorporate the ingredients after each addition.
Spoon the batter in dollops over the pear slices in the skillet. Spread the batter evenly without disturbing the pears, and bake the cake until nicely browned and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the skillet on a rack for 15 minutes.
Run a thin knife or offset spatula around the edge of the skillet and invert a large serving plate over the skillet. Wearing the oven mittens and keeping the plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert the cake onto the plate. Carefully remove the skillet and let the cake cool on the plate on the rack. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.