How do you know when you have a true friend? When she brings you 6 cardboard boxes of macaroni and cheese from her family vacation in California. Twenty-five years later and I still remember that gift. Lin knew me so well. She knew that I didn’t want a silly California keychain, a useless stuffed animal, or a tee shirt that would be too big and certainly too scratchy. She understood me. Of course that’s what I would want as a souvenir from her trip (regardless of the fact that macaroni and cheese could be found easily in all fifty states). She knew that pasta would be her best idea for a gift and the thing that would make me beam the very brightest. But most importantly, she could be sure that every single box of rehydrated cheese covered noodles would be shared with her - the glorious feast at many a giggly sleepover to come. That’s best friendship at its finest.
Lin was my next-door neighbor and bestie for some of my happiest of childhood years. I never went to summer camp because I wanted to start every summer day by running across our lawns, ringing her doorbell, and asking her mom if she could play. Lin taught me how to play poker (we were wagering rice crispy treats and scented erasers back then), she lent me a hat when I got my first hideous perm (there were many), and her wonderful family was foreign just like mine. I didn’t realize it at the time, but perhaps that’s one of the reasons we found so much comfort in each other. Her foreign family and my foreign family didn’t seem all that foreign to one another.
I’ve been able to keep up with Lin through social media. We haven’t seen each other in maybe 15 years, but I have a sense of what she’s up to and I’m glad for that. I also know that a year ago, Lin had a fantastically adorable baby girl named Amadea Gabrielle. How pretty is that?
So a few months ago, Lin’s sister Tao reached out to me with the most fun and flattering of tasks. She asked me if I would develop a recipe for a special birthday cake for Amadea. Tao lives in France with her family. Since her own daughters, named Madeleine and Charlotte, both already have French desserts of the same name, she had a pastry chef friend create a birthday dessert in honor of her son Hugh. Now, in order to continue this fun cake tradition, she asked me if I would create a Gateau Amadea in honor of her niece.
Isn’t that the most touching and wonderful of assignments?! The best part is that Amadea was born in October, which means that I have pears to work with. Oh, Amadea, you are in for such a treat! I basically wait all year to start baking with pears. I’m totally in love with them. So gloriously versatile! You can enjoy them with practically anything - chocolate, custard, ginger, nuts, spice, cheese or just a big smile and a napkin. There are varieties that are best eaten soft, when you’re feeling like you need something tender and yielding, comforting, and sweet. There are others that give you a refreshing, juicy crunch or can take a little heat and manipulation if there’s cooking to be done. Honestly, I could go on forever. Pears are the greatest.
So, dear Amadea, let’s talk about this cake I made for you. I’ve seen that adorable hairdo you’ve got going on so I was certain that you’d appreciate something nice to look at. The pretty pear pattern is right up your alley. I can also tell that you’re a sophisticated lady who would like her pears smothered in brown butter and caramel adding an elegant savory, nutty layer to the fruit. As for the cake, it’s decadent and serious. It also happens to be free of any creamy frosting or gluten. Eventually Amadea, I hope that you have a best friend (or many!) to share this cake with. In the meantime, I imagine you’ll share it with your lovely parents who I know stay away from those things. Your cake is made with hazelnut flour and a little bit of almond paste, which makes it extra-moist and flavorful. It can stay delicious for days. I want you to be able to keep the birthday celebration going for as long as possible. Birthday cake should never end.
The bottom line, little Amadea, is that your cake is very rich, sweet, good, and nutty– which are just some of the things that I hope you will grow up to be. I’m very much looking forward to meeting you someday. Lots of love and happy birthday.
Gateau Amadea (Gluten Free Caramel Pear Upside Down Cake)
Serves 8 to 10
For the pear layer:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
2 firm-ripe Bosc pears, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
pinch kosher salt
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups hazelnut flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup gluten-free almond paste (I like Love N' Bake)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 Preheat oven to 350°. Make the pear layer: Butter an 8-inch-by-2-inch round cake pan, line with parchment, and butter parchment. Arrange pears in a circle, overlapping slightly, to cover the bottom of the pan. This should take about 1 1/2 pears. You can either eat the remaining pear or dice it up and fold it into the cake batter. (I ate mine!) Gently brush pears with lemon juice to prevent browning while you make the caramel.
2. In a small skillet, heat butter over medium until golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. To skillet, add brown sugar and 2 tablespoons water and cook until sugar is dissolved and bubbling, swirling skillet occasionally, about 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in butter and salt and pour over pears in pan. Set aside.
3. Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together hazelnut flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Using an electric mixer, in another medium bowl, beat butter, almond paste, and granulated sugar until fluffy and well combined, about 5 minutes. Add egg yolks and beat to combine. Add hazelnut mixture to butter mixture and beat to combine.
4 In a clean bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites to soft peaks, about 4 minutes. Gently fold egg whites into hazelnut mixture. Transfer batter to baking pan and smooth top. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Carefully flip cake onto a serving plate. Serve warm or room temperature.