Upside-down cakes remain family favorite
Growing up in a noisy, raucous family of nine, Mom made sure everything was even-steven.
If we had popcorn while watching “Hogan's Heroes” or “I Dream of Jeannie,” we each had our own bowl to prevent the older, larger hands (cough, cough!) from grabbing more than their fair share.
But Mom also catered to our individual tastes. Her Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is an excellent example.
One of us didn't like cherries, one wanted extra cherries, another didn't like nuts. One liked pineapple, but no other add-ons. One, if you can believe it, preferred only the buttery brown sugar topping. So she portioned toppings to different parts of the cake to maintain peace and happiness for all.
The versatility and ease of this fundamental cake is part of its appeal. It certainly was a regular feature on our family's dessert menu.
Cookbook author Abigail Johnson Dodge has similar memories of this simple cake from her childhood.
“I learned how to bake alongside my mom,” says the author of “The Everyday Baker” (Taunton Press, $40). “Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was often made on Sunday afternoons in my house.”
Though we tend to think of upside-down cakes as a product of the '60s, the idea of baking a cake that's flipped out of the pan to reveal fruits and nuts in a sugary caramel setting goes back to the Middle Ages.
For a few centuries, baking “skillet cakes” in cast-iron pans helped bakers with wood-powered ovens maintain the steady heat required for baking. It remains a preferred method for some and was the way my grandmother made her upside-down cakes.
The pineapple aspect of upside-down cakes came about when the Hawaiian Pineapple Co. — now Dole — began manufacturing canned pineapple cut into tidy rings in the early 20th century. By 1925, according to food historians, pineapple was established as a pantry staple and the cake as part of the culinary lexicon. That was when the company held a contest for pineapple recipes. Of the 60,000 recipes submitted, about 2,500 were said to be for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.
Today, the cake remains a regular offering at local bakeries and seems to be celebrating a revival of sorts.
“Depending on your age, it might be nostalgia that brings you to it,” says Dodge, who points to the upside-down cake as the perfect recipe for beginner bakers to try out.
“It goes to that one-layer aspect of cake,” she says. “Once you get beyond that single layer, it starts to get a little scary. So a one-layer cake with an upside-down component — with that fruit on the bottom making a sparkling top — alleviates any need for frosting or anything else extra. It's like an all-in-one cake.”
Sally Quinn is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Myra's Easy Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Here's how my mom made her upside-down cake before all those picky eaters got involved. Feel free to cater to your family's personal tastes, too.
Yellow cake mix and called-for ingredients
1 can (20 ounces) pineapple slices in juice
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Nonstick cooking spray
Heat oven to temperature as per cake mix directions.
Drain the pineapple, reserving the liquid in a measuring cup. The juice will replace the water called for in the cake mix directions. Add water to the juice to attain the proper amount.
Melt the butter. Mix in the brown sugar.
Coat the sides of a rectangular cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Press the butter-sugar mixture in an even layer on the bottom of pan. Place the pineapple slices in a pleasing pattern, cutting a few in quarters to fit into smaller spots. Press cherries inside the rings and other spots as desired. Press walnuts into remaining spaces.
Prepare the cake mix according to directions, substituting pineapple juice for the water.
Pour into the pan and bake according to directions. Check if the cake is fully baked with a toothpick inserted in center.
Remove the cake from the oven and immediately cut along the edges of the pan. Place a serving dish on top and carefully flip over. Allow to cool for about 5 to 8 minutes, then carefully lift the pan straight up from the cake. Allow to cool completely.
Serve with whipped cream.
Makes 12 servings, or enough to feed a hungry family of 9, with just enough to fight over.
Dried Fruit Upside-Downer
Abigail Johnson Dodge's upside-down cake starts with tons of dried fruit plumped in orange juice for the topping. She also added a cooked sugar caramel to this mix. The bittersweet flavor is slightly more sophisticated, but she also gives bakers the option to use a more traditional butter/brown sugar mixture instead. Finally, the buttermilk cake is lightly spiced with nutmeg so as not to overshadow the fruity topping.
Measurements here are given in volume as well as weight. Dodge strongly urges bakers to weigh ingredients as a key to baking success.
Make ahead: The cake can be baked, cooled, covered and stored at room temperature for 3 days. The caramel and fruit can be made and layered in the pan, cooled, covered and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.
For variations, see Upside-Downer Flavor Swap.
This recipe comes from “The Everyday Baker” (Taunton Press, $40).
Nonstick cooking spray or softened butter, for preparing the pan
For the caramel:
1 cup (7 ounces/198 grams) sugar
1⁄4 cup (60 milliliters) water
For the fruit:
2⁄3 cup (6 ounces/170 grams) lightly packed dried apricots
3⁄4 cup (4 1⁄2 ounces/128 grams) lightly packed dried tart cherries
3⁄4 cup (3 3⁄8 ounces/96 grams) lightly packed dried cranberries
1 cup (240 milliliters) freshly squeezed orange juice
For the cake:
1 1⁄2 cups (6 3⁄4 ounces/191 grams) unbleached flour
3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1⁄2 cup (3 1⁄2 ounces/99 grams) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1⁄3 cup (3 5⁄8 ounces/103 grams) red currant jelly, melted, for glazing (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat the sides of one 9-inch by 2-inch round cake pan with spray or butter.
To prepare the caramel: Put the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling. Stop stirring and increase the heat to high. When the sugar begins to caramelize, swirl the pan over the heat until the caramel is deep amber in color, for 2 to 3 minutes. Gently swirl the pan over the heat to even out the caramel color. Immediately pour into the baking pan and quickly swirl to evenly coat the bottom. The pan will be hot, so be careful.
To prepare the fruit: Using scissors, snip the apricots into 1⁄2-inch pieces. Put the apricots, cherries, cranberries and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is plump and tender and the juice is reduced, for 5 to 7 minutes. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a measuring cup and pour the fruit and juice into the sieve. Don't press on the fruit. Measure and reserve 1⁄4 cup liquid. Scatter the fruit evenly over the caramel.
To prepare the cake: Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until blended. Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric handheld mixer fitted with wire beaters) and beat on medium speed until well-blended and smooth, for about 1 minute. Add the sugar and continue beating on medium-high speed until fluffy and lighter in color, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating briefly after each addition. Add the vanilla along with the last egg. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended. Add the buttermilk and reserved 1⁄4 cup juice and mix until just blended. Add the remaining flour and, using a silicone spatula, gently fold until just blended. Spoon large dollops of the batter over the fruit (it's fine if the fruit is still warm) and spread in an even layer.
Bake until a pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, for 39 to 41 minutes. Immediately run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan. Set a flat serving plate on top of the pan and, using pot holders, grip the pan and the plate and invert. Let the inverted pan rest for about 5 minutes to let the topping settle. Gently lift off the pan.
Just before serving, use a pastry brush to thinly coat the top of the cake with the melted red currant jelly, if desired, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Upside-Downer Flavor Swap:
• Instead of the orange juice, use the same amount of cranberry or apple juice.
• Instead of the cherries or cranberries, use the same amount of coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts.
• Instead of the cooked sugar caramel, use a brown-sugar caramel: In a small saucepan, combine 3⁄4 cup (5 1⁄4 oz./ 149 grams) firmly packed brown sugar and 5 tablespoons unsalted butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil and pour into the prepared pan, swirling to coat the bottom evenly. Scatter the fruit evenly over the caramel.
Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
To prevent this cake from sticking, do not let it cool in the pan for more than 10 minutes before turning it out. Recipe is from “Cook's Country Eats Local” (America's Test Kitchen, $26.95).
For the topping:
Vegetable shortening and flour, for preparing the pan
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake:
¼ cup blanched slivered almonds
1 cup (5 ounces) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) sugar
3 large eggs, separated
To prepare the topping: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment paper, and spray with vegetable oil spray.
Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cranberries, sugar and jam and cook until cranberries are just softened, for about 4 minutes. Strain cranberry mixture over bowl, reserving juices.
Add strained juices to now-empty skillet and simmer over medium heat until syrupy and reduced to 1 cup, for about 4 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla.
Arrange strained berries in single layer in the prepared pan. Pour the juice mixture over the berries and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To prepare the cake: Process the almonds and ¼ cup of flour in food processor until finely ground, for about 10 seconds. Add the remaining ¾ cup of flour, baking powder and salt and pulse to combine.
Whisk the milk and extracts together in a measuring cup.
In stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, for about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, 1 at a time, until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of milk mixture.
Using a clean bowl and beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks, for about 2 minutes. Whisk one-third of the whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites. Pour batter over chilled cranberry mixture and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a paring knife around the cake and invert onto a serving platter. Serve.
Makes 8 servings.