i expected, somehow, the definition to be as powerful as the act, and laughed how I felt disappointed in the meager description.
to caramelize – to transform raw sugars into deep, crackle-crusted, butter-rich, glistening gorgeousness; to bring sugar to the brink of burnt, revealing its richest expression of sweetness.
when you roast veggies, the sugars caramelize, delivering fuller flavor of the vegetable itself and crisped, browned edges.
when you make caramel for desserts, you bring simple syrup through a gentle boiling from clear to amber darker and darker as you please.
for this pear up-side down cake—a local, seasonal iteration of the more salient pineapple; not unreminiscent of tarte tatin—whisk together 2 tablespoons of water and ¼ cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and swirl the pan once in awhile for 8 -10 minutes. Now is a moment for kitchen mindfulness. Don’t wander away and let the syrup burn: you will have to start over and your pan will be a mess. when the sugar is a deep amber, turn off the heat and swirl in a tablespoon of butter.
heat the oven to 350˚. Line a 9-inch round baking pan with a circle of parchment paper and butter the lot. Pour the caramel into the pan and swirl to coat the bottom.
slice 4 or 5 Seckel pears (or 2 or 3 large pears like Bartlett) thinly; easily done on a mandoline. Lay pears slices in a pretty overlapping pattern in the caramel.
separate two eggs: the whites into a big bowl and the yolks into a smaller one. Beat the egg whites until frothy all the way through.
cream together a softened stick of butter and ¾ cup of sugar. Beat in the egg yolks. Grate in an inch or so of fresh ginger. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with ½ cup of whole milk. Gently fold in the egg whites. Scoop and scrape the batter over the pears, smoothing the top. Pop in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the cake is golden brown and springy.
let cool for half an hour or so before attempting to remove from the pan. Cut around the sides with a knife and flip onto a plate. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream to be fancy; eat for breakfast as is.