Upside-down Caramel-Pear Chocolate Cake

Serves 12-14

Ingredients for caramel-fruit topping:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into wedges OR use canned pears in a jiff

1. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.

2. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, then cover and cook for 1-2 mins.

3. Uncover the pan and continue to boil, slowly swirling the mixture around to cook the caramel evenly, till it becomes a dark amber color. Occasionally wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water, so that sugar crystals don't form on the sides.

4. Carefully pour the caramel into the baking pan and allow it to harden. Warning: pan will be VERY hot from the sugar!

5. Arrange the pear slices over the slightly cooled caramel in any pattern you desire.

Ingredients for the cake:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring occasionally.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

3. Transfer the melted chocolate to a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugar. Using a handheld mixer, or your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed for about 3 mins till fluffy.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

5. Stir in the flour mixture in 3 installments, alternating with the milk in 2 installments, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides as you go along.

6. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 40-45 mins. Take it out of the oven and cool in the pan itself for 15 mins. Then invert the pan onto a plate, and leave it there for 5 mins before you remove the pan from the cake (this will allow all the caramel to dislodge itself properly from the pan). Serve it warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. This cake kept really well, on my counter at room temperature, covered in plastic wrap, for a number of days. I would simply warm a slice for 5-10 secs in the microwave each time I served it.