Red Wine-Pear Cardamom Cake Recipe (2024)

By Melissa Clark

Red Wine-Pear Cardamom Cake Recipe (1)

Total Time
1 hour 30 minutes, plus cooling
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This fragrant, fruity cake is a riff on Marian Burros’s original plum torte, one of The New York Times’ most popular recipes. But instead of plums, this buttery, moist cake (here, spiked with a little cardamom and citrus zest) is topped with pears that have been sautéed in red wine and butter. Like the original, it’s good served both plain, or with whipped cream or sour cream on the side.

Featured in: Yes, There Are Great Thanksgiving Desserts That Aren’t Pie

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Yield:6 to 8 servings

    For the Red Wine Pears

    • cups/296 milliliters dry red wine
    • 2 to 3pears, not too ripe (1 pound), peeled, cored, and sliced ½-inch thick (2 cups sliced pears)
    • 2tablespoons/28 grams unsalted butter
    • 1 to 2tablespoons/12 to 25 grams granulated sugar

    For the Cake

    • ½cup/113 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
    • ¾cup/150 grams granulated sugar
    • 2large eggs, at room temperature
    • 1teaspoon baking powder
    • 1teaspoon ground cardamom
    • 1teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
    • ¼teaspoon fine sea or table salt
    • 1cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
    • Confectioners’ sugar, for serving (optional)

Ingredient Substitution Guide

Nutritional analysis per serving (8 servings)

350 calories; 16 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 0 grams trans fat; 5 grams monounsaturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 44 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams dietary fiber; 27 grams sugars; 4 grams protein; 140 milligrams sodium

Note: The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Red Wine-Pear Cardamom Cake Recipe (2)


Make the recipe with us

  1. Step


    Prepare the pears: Pour the wine into a large skillet and place it over medium-high heat. Let simmer until it reduces by half, 5 to 8 minutes.

  2. Step


    Add the pears, butter and sugar (use less sugar if your pears are very sweet). Let simmer until the pears absorb the wine and caramelize, 7 to 10 minutes. All the liquid should be gone. Spoon pears into a bowl and let cool while you prepare the cake batter.

  3. Step


    Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the cake: Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, or a bowl and wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 6 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the baking powder, cardamom, citrus zest and salt, and beat until smooth. Beat in flour until well combined.

  4. Step


    Scrape batter into the pan and smooth the top. Lay the pear slices on top of the cake. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (the 9-inch pan bakes faster than the 8-inch). The top should be light golden, and the crumb should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.

  5. Step


    Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a little confectioners’ sugar, if you like. Cake will keep in the refrigerator for 24 hours; bring to room temperature before serving.



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Cooking Notes


The batter actually doesn't belong below, even in the original recipe, which I've made numerous times—the fruit always sinks in somewhat. It makes cutting and eating it a nice surprise.


Maybe next time you'll make this recipe!

Nick C

Yes, you can use gluten free flour. I’ve used the original recipe (plum torte) with rice flour many times for family members with allergies and it tastes just as good (if not better).


Very good, and nice light cake. We liked the slightly crunchy top to the cake. Make sure to caramelize the pears, even reduce wine further to get a good caramelized finish. Also I'd possibly double the cardamon spice in the cake.


Unsweetened dark cherry juice? Although I haven't tried the recipe, I do use unsweetened fruit juices in baking. Use whatever juice you like as long as you follow the method.


That sure made a tasty little cake! I used 3 bartlett pears, cabernet, and a 9-inch pan. I lined the bottom with parchment, then buttered the pan. The butter melted out some, so next time a pan on the rack below to catch the mess. My pears didn't sink into the batter as much as I would have liked, so I will reserve a little batter to dollop on top for the next effort. Cake was done in 50 minutes.


For YayaLisa's Gluten Free question: I believe the comments for the original recipe (also on this site) answers this (read through the comments), though your results will vary slightly. As long as you're using an alternative flour blend (avoide bean-based ones) with xanthan gum, you should be able to substitute the AP wheat flour 1:1 for your preferred GF flour or flour blend. If yours doesn't already include xanthan gum, you'll have to add it to provide structure. Even if you use almond flour.


I made this yesterday to take to a dinner party. I used three Bosc pears, which as more than enough (leftover caramelized pears? OK!). Served it with very lightly sweetened crème fraiche. Elegant and festive dessert that was very well received.


Very good, be careful not to overbake the cake as it dries quickly. Excellent with ice cream!

Valley Rose

See this note accompanying the original Plum Torte recipe linked in the intro for this recipe, above: "To freeze, double-wrap the torte in foil, place in a plastic bag and seal."


Could the cake part be adjusted to incorporate almond paste and use apples and reduced cider instead? I think the touch of citrus with almonds would be lovely. Maybe some sliced almonds sprinkled on the top? Any suggestions or affirmations appreciated.


This was a tasty cake. I used apples instead of pears since I didn’t have any pears. I also used port wine since that’s all I had. Maybe next time I’ll use cranberry juice.


Tip: If you're feeling extra lazy the red wine pears make a wonderful desert on their own when served with vanilla ice cream. Very easy alternative.


If I were cooking this without wine I would try cranberry juice (not cranberry co*cktail) or pomegranate juice. They would both add color and a bit of acidity and keep up the autumnal feel of the cake. But honestly, there are so many great dessert recipes here and elsewhere that if you don’t like one of the main ingredients, why not pick something else?


If your problem is with wine, rather than with alcohol, try a porter or a malt-forward (not too hoppy) amber ale. You won't add loads of extra sugar, as you would with fruit juice, and you will add richness of flavor and a relief from boredom, as the red wine would have done.


I have made this twice now - the first time I filled the recipe exactly and it was delicious - fragrant and delightful. The second time I w I made one change; I substituted 1/4 c plus 2 T olive oil for the butter in the batter. It was equally delicious (though cardamom could’ve been bumped up a bit) but also more moist and came together much more quickly with no need for a mixer.


Just made cake only. Used zest from one orange. If making again without fruit, would increase salt to 1/2 tsp.


This was a huge hit at a recent dinner party. My 3 pears yielded 3 cups of pears and I was very happy with that quantity for my 9 inch pan. I also upped the cardamom to 1and 1/2 tsp and used orange zest. Flavors were fresh and the cake was moist. I served with very lightly sweetened whipped cream.


This was a big hit, even though I overbaked it a bit. I used an 8" springform, checked it at 35 minutes, and probably should have given it another 5 instead of 10 minutes. Nevertheless, it was delicious. I would also recommend using ripe pears. My red D'Anjous were still pretty firm, so they didn't carmelize all that well. This was a great learning experience for me, as I previously thought that sauteéing unripe pears would ripen them.


I’ve made this recipe three times now. The first time it was fabulous: delicate and delicious. The next two times were disappointing: flat cake with soggy fruit. I love the cardamom flavor of it enough to want to try to make it work. I might try just baking the cake on its own and serve the poached pears on the side.

Rob B

Great recipe. Definitely wouldn’t use anything bigger than an 8” pan. Also might boost the sweetness a bit by either adding a little more sugar to the batter or sprinkling some brown sugar on top before baking


Made for Thanksgiving in 8x8 pan. Was dry - likely baked too long. Made pears ahead which worked well.

Leslie Marqua

Remember - if you don't like the taste of the wine, you won't like the taste of the pears!


Made as written. The cooking time is far too long. At 35 minutes, the cake had already caught on top, and was too dry and too dark throughout. Oven temp was correct. Other commenters don't seem to have had the same trouble, so I don't know what went wrong here. Would not make again.


I made this with gluten free flour in a 9 in pan and it was overcooked after 45 minutes. I couldn't taste much of anything: pears, wine, lemon, or cardamom, and the cake was dry. I was so disappointed because the pears were so beautiful as was the batter, which was tasty. I definitely won't repeat the recipe!

Sue T

The flavor was delicious. I topped it with a stirred vanilla custard. Yum!

Used Less Sugar, Flavor Soared

Used 1/2 the granulated sugar --and the wine poached pear and butter flavor was astounding.


I doubled the recipe which was a mistake because it took forever for the wine to reduce.Next time if I double it put just 1.5 cups of wine.Could do with less sugar as well.

lemon elf

double batch and line with parchment for a 10” skillet


Tip: If you're feeling extra lazy the red wine pears make a wonderful desert on their own when served with vanilla ice cream. Very easy alternative.

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Red Wine-Pear Cardamom Cake Recipe (2024)
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