To dessert-lovers, a good cake has no down side. Unless, of course, it happens to be an upside-down cake.
These minor miracles of topsy-turviness start with a layer of fruit (most often canned pineapple) in a sweet, syrupy, buttery glaze in the bottom of a heavy pan or skillet. Over this, a good cake batter is poured. After baking, in a culinary sleight of hand, the whole shebang is reversed out onto a serving plate, the fruit underneath now a gloriously attractive and gooey topping.
Most of us think of upside-down cake as old-fashioned, but it goes back only to the early 20th century. No one knows for sure how and when in originated, but a 1924 Seattle fund-raising cookbook seems to mark its first published appearance. This was followed by a version in a 1925 Gold Medal Flour ad, another in a 1931 government pamphlet, and finally one in a 1936 Sears Roebuck catalog. Thus, it became a fixed star in the firmament of American home baking.
Upside-down technique existed prior to this in an apocryphal French apple pie, created in 1889 by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, innkeepers in the Loire Valley. During the busy hunting season, one sister left a pan of apples and sugar on the stove cooking a bit too long. Instead of merely softening, the sugar caramelized and the apples braised in this caramel. With no time to think, Stéphanie cleverly popped a pastry crust on it, baked the whole thing, turned it out and served it.
With fresh pears, dried cherries, pecans and maple syrup, this ultra-moist, rich upside-down cake may well be the best you’ve ever had. Some serve it with ice cream or whipped cream, but this really isn’t needed. A glass of cold milk, however, is a welcome accompaniment. The cake is especially delicious when still slightly warm.
Maple Pecan Pear Upside-Down Cake
1/2 cup apple, cherry or cranberry juice
1/2 cup dried cherries
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 red D’anjou pear, barely ripe, sliced
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. To prepare topping, pour juice into a small saucepan and bring to a boil; add dried cherries. Set aside.
3. Place butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, patting it down with your fingers. Pour maple syrup over brown sugar mixture. Do not stir.
4. Drain cherries, reserving both juice and cherries. Arrange pear slices, cherries and pecans over sugar mixture in skillet.
5. To prepare cake, sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. In another bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add granulated sugar and continue beating until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in vanilla and egg.
6. Pour reserved cherry-soaking liquid into a measuring cup, and add buttermilk to equal 2/3 cup.
7. Alternately add 1/3 of flour mixture and 1/3 of buttermilk mixture to butter mixture, beating gently after each addition. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk mixtures. Do not overbeat.
8. Spoon batter over fruit and topping, spreading lightly.
9. Bake about 45 minutes, until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serve 8.
Per serving: 390 calories, 12g fat, 5g prot., 68g carbs., 2g fiber, 280mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn