There is nothing like the pleasure of making and eating a simple upside-down cake. Although it may look complicated, it's one of the easiest cakes to make. You don't have to separate the eggs, use special pans, or make any fancy fillings or frosting. It's a one-stop shop to pure deliciousness.
Upside-down cake has all the textures you could ever want. Starting from the bottom, it's got a moist and tender butter cake. This one is enriched with tangy buttermilk and an extra egg yolk. It's sweet, simple, and satisfying. The top is a pleasant mess of juicy caramelized fruit (or vegetable, in this case), stewed in its own juices, plus plenty of butter and brown sugar. Then there is that mysterious layer in between — that's where the magic happens. It's the sugary horizon between heaven and earth, where the caramel and some of the juices from the carrots seep into the cake, rendering a thin layer of a pleasant custard. It's like bread pudding, cake, and jam all rolled into one. Add a few nuts and you've got a bit of crunch that makes the whole package irresistible.
This version takes the classic upside-down cake and turns it on its head. Very thinly sliced carrots form the pretty, striped top. It might not have cream cheese frosting, but it's got pizzazz. This is classic carrot cake dressed up for a fancy party. Serve fat slices with a bit of sweetened crème fraiche.
Upside-Down Carrot Cake
Serves 8 to 10
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
For the topping:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 medium carrots
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch-round cake pan. Line it with parchment and butter the parchment. To prepare the cake, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the 1/2 cup of butter and the 2/3 cup of brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in eggs and yolk, one at a time, until combined, and then stir in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, starting with the flour. Set the batter aside while you finish the topping.
To make the topping, melt the 1/4 cup butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the 1/4 cup brown sugar, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and starts to take on the texture of caramel, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to the prepared pan.
Peel the carrots. Use the vegetable peeler to peel long, wide strips of carrot. Lay the strips to cover the bottom of the pan, overlapping them slightly. Finely chop any remaining strips of carrot — as well as any ends — and fold them into the cake batter. Top the carrot layer with the batter and smooth the top. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet and carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.