Surely everyone is familiar with the classic pineapple upside-down cake, topped with rings of canned pineapple and dotted with neon-red maraschino cherries, all nestled in a brown sugar glaze? What many people don't know is that nearly any fruit can be subbed in for the pineapple-cherry combo with fresh, delicious results. Read on for our master recipe for making upside-down cakes with fresh fruits all summer long!
Developed sometime around the turn of the last century when canned pineapple was invented, the pineapple upside-down is a classic American cake that has probably past the peek of its popularity. It's true that tastes have changed over the last 100 years and things like canned pineapple and maraschino cherries aren't considered as classy as they once were. But the upside-down cake, with its buttery brown sugar glaze balanced by the simple white cake below, still holds a lot of appeal.
These days, many people make the cake with pineapple, only they may use fresh fruit or leave off the day-glo maraschino cherries, which offers some improvement. I personally like the canned pineapple version enough, but really love it when fresh pineapple is used. However, my favorite way to reinvent this cake is to use fresh or frozen seasonal fruit, and if I'm feeling really creative, some chopped fresh herbs.
This cake lends itself towards any fruit that cooks up well, which is any fruit you'd make a pie with. In the pictures here, I used a fresh peach and some unsweetened frozen blueberries, but you can also use nectarines, fresh cherries, any berry, apples, pears, bananas, mangos, apricots, figs, cranberries, or strawberries. Or any combination! I suppose you could even use citrus like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons, although I haven't tried it so I can't be certain. Plums are good if they're not too ripe and juicy.
Finely chopped herbs such as basil or lemon thyme are another more updated addition. Peaches and nectarines are great with basil and lemon thyme is delicious with just about anything. Mint would work with almost any fruit as well, and rosemary would be perfect with figs. Spices such as cinnamon would be good for the fall versions of this cake when fresh apples, persimmons, or pears would be a natural choice.
Fresh fruit is great, but frozen fruit works as well, so don't hesitate to use it. The only thing you want to be careful about is not using fruit that has been stored in juice or syrup. You want unsweetened, individual pieces, and be sure that they are still frozen when adding them to the topping before baking as they are easier to handle that way.
This master recipe for upside-down cake uses less sugar than the classic recipe, which can have up to one cup of brown sugar and a whole stick of butter for the topping alone. I find that using less butter and sugar really allows the taste of the fruit to come through. Don't worry, you will still have a sticky, decadent topping!
Another classic method is to make the cake in a cast iron skillet. I don't recommend this method in this master recipe because most of our cast iron skillets have been heavily seasoned using savory foods like onions and garlic, and those flavors can sometimes transfer to the sweet cake. If you don't think this will be an issue, or if you have a skillet that is reserved for 'sweet' dishes, then by all means use it.
The amount of prepared fruit needed for the topping is roughly 2 to 3 cups. The reason why this is a rough number is that fruit measures differently, depending on how it is cut. A cup of blueberries will be much different than a cup of sliced apples, for instance. What you want is at least a single layer of fruit covering the bottom of the pan, although you can let it pile up a little, too. It's good to really crowd the pan as the fruit will shrink some when cooking.
The cake needs to be removed from the pan shortly after it has been taken from the oven or the fruit will stick. This can be a little tricky as the fruit and brown sugar topping is still quite hot and can burn. I do this by placing the cake straight from the oven onto a cooking rack. As soon as the fruit has stopped bubbling (about one minute), I place a cake plate over the cake, and using hot pads, pick up the rack, cake, and cake plate and holding all three firmly, in one motion flip over to invert the cake. I set the whole stack down on the counter and remove the rack and then carefully remove the cake pan. There will be hot steam from the fruit so use caution! This is an instance where a skillet is a good choice as the handle makes it easy to remove.
Dollop the batter on the fruit.
How To Make an Upside-Down Cake with Almost Any Fruit
Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 8 to 10 people
What You Need
For the topping:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 cups fruit
3-4 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (optional)
For the cake:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
9-inch cake pan or oven-safe skillet
Knife and cutting board for prepping fruit if necessary
Measuring cups and spoons
Medium bowl and whisk
Prep the fruit and preheat oven. Preheat your oven to 350°F. If you are using fresh fruit, be sure it is washed and dried. Slice it into wedges or dice it into large 1" chunks. Most berries can be left whole and smaller stone fruit such as cherries and apricots can be halved. If using frozen fruit, do not defrost.
Make the brown sugar glaze. Place your baking pan or skillet on a burner over low heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and stir it gently. When the brown sugar has melted, turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the stove.
Make the cake batter. In the stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Meanwhile, measure the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk gently to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between, followed by the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined, about one minute.
Add the fruit to the pan. Arrange the fruit in the baking pan, being sure to crowd the pan as much as possible. The fruit will shrink a little when cooked. If using herbs sprinkle them on top of the fruit.
Top with the cake batter. Dollop the fruit with the cake batter, being sure it is evenly distributed. Smooth with a spatula.
Bake. Place the cake in the oven. You might want to put it on a baking sheet to catch any overflow (sometimes the fruit bubbles up). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a thin knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Transfer to a cake plate. Remove the cake from the baking sheet and place it on a cooling rack. Let the cake settle for a minute, until any fruit that has leaked up the sides has stopped bubbling. Do not let the cake cool or you will not get it out of the pan! Run a knife around the edges of the cake. Place your cake plate over the cake and, using hot pads, carefully flip the cake over. Gently remove the cake pan. Be careful, as the fruit and glaze is still quite hot and will burn!
Re-arrange the fruit and let the cake cool. If any pieces of fruit are stuck to the cake pan, gently scrape them up with a knife and replace them on the cake. Let the cake cool.
Serve. Serve the cake at room temperature or sightly warm. Optional: top with barely sweetened whipped cream. To store, wrap carefully in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container. Will keep for several days.
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(Images: Dana Velden)