Requires: 22cm round cake pan, electric mixer (or hand beater)
Preheat oven to 180°C conventional oven (356° Fahrenheit/Gas 4). Grease a 22cm round cake pan by lightly buttering the base and sides with margarine or butter. Line the base with baking paper, then lightly butter over the baking paper. Add a heaped tablespoon of flour, then turn and shake the tin to coat the butter in flour on the base and sides of the cake pan. Place a large metal mixing bowl into the fridge to chill.
Place the lemon juice in a small bowl. Halve and core the pears. With the cut-side down, thinly slice the pears (less than 1cm thick) and toss in the bowl with lemon juice. This is to prevent discolouration of the pears. Set aside.
To make the caramel, place the water in a saucepan. Pour in the sugar, making sure all the grains get wet. Heat over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil, without stirring, for 15-20 minutes or until parts are light golden. Gently stir and continue to cook until golden throughout (approximately 3 minutes). Remove from the heat.
Allow the bubbles from the caramel to subside and pour evenly into the prepared cake pan. Drain the pears, reserving the lemon juice. Arrange the pear slices in a circular pattern over the caramel, starting from the outside and working inward to completely cover the base of the cake pan.
Using an electric mixer or hand beater, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. With the mixer (or hand beater) running, add the egg yolks, one at a time. Add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.
Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour, one tablespoon at a time. You want to see air bubbles rise to the surface of the cake mixture before adding additional tablespoons of flour. Stir in the margarine (or butter) until well combined. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice, then the sifted baking powder into the cake mixture.
Note: 00 is a powder-fine Italian type of flour. It is made from soft wheat varieties and is frequently used in Italian desserts and pastas. 00 flour is available in most supermarkets, Italian food stores and gourmet delicatessens.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared cake pan evenly over the pear slices. Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean.
Meanwhile to make the Cognac whipped cream, remove the chilled bowl from the fridge. Place the thickened cream in the bowl together with sifted icing sugar, instant skim milk powder and vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer or hand beater, beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir in the Cognac and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note: Icing sugar not only sweetens the cream however the addition of skim milk powder and icing sugar help to thicken and stabilize it.
Invert the Caramelised upside down pear cake onto a serving plate while still warm. To serve, top with a spoon of Cognac whipped cream – buon appetito.
Tip: This recipe is best served warm.