Moist and spicy, this cake is baked and served in a cast-iron skillet for great taste and a homespun look. With fruit on top, there is no need to unmold it. Cloves are a love-it or hate-it kind of spice, so omit them if you are on the hate-it side. Use a flavorful pear variety that will hold its shape reasonable well when cooked. Bosc, Anjou, or French Butter works well.
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup canola, grapeseed, or other neutral vegetable oil
1/2 cup gently packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured dark molasses
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup hot, freshly brewed strong coffee (regular or decaffeinated) or boiling water
4 firm-ripe pears (about 2 pounds), peeled and cored
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup gently packed light brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Tangy Whipped Cream, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the lower third. Oil a 10- or 11-inch cast-iron skillet.
To make the cake, stir together the flour, ground ginger, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves (if using) in a bowl. Set aside.
Whisk together the oil, brown sugar, molasses, yogurt, ginger, and egg in a large bowl until well blended and smooth. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in half of the flour mixture. Stir the baking soda into the hot coffee until dissolved, then add to the batter and stir until combined. Stir in the remaining flour. Transfer the batter to the prepared skillet and spread evenly.
Cut the pears lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the longer slices on the batter in a circle at the edge of the pan, overlapping them slightly and with the narrow ends pointing toward the center. Arrange the shortest slices in a second circle in the center to cover the batter completely. Dot the pear slices with the butter along the outer circle only. Mix together the brown sugar and salt and sprinkle evenly over the top.
Bake until the top springs back when you press it lightly in the center and a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean, about 1 hour. Transfer the skillet to the stove top to cool for at least 20 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges and topped with whipped cream. Refrigerate leftover cake, tightly covered, for up to 4 days, or freeze, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 months. Bring to room temperature before serving.
The cake is delicious the day it’s made, but I like it even better the next day, when the flavors have deepened and the texture goes from cakey-tender to a bit more dense. It will stay moist for several days after that, and also freezes well.