Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alice's upside-down plum cake

Based on what I've been posting recently, you'd think I was made up of about 75% sugar. There was the blueberry buttermilk cake, the honey and vanilla pound cake, the almond rhubarb snack cake, and amidst those I was able to loosen my belt for some rhubarb streusel bars and chocolate chip cookies. I  have no business eating like this, but look at me go.

Recently, I had some plums that needed attention. Now, while I'm a friend to the crisp and the cobbler, over the last few years I've really developed a love of baking cakes. There's something infinitely satisfying to me about the simple steps involved -- creaming the butter, smoothing the batter into the pan, pulling the warm and fragrant cake from the oven -- and it never causes me the anxiety I feel with pastry dough. So while I may not be 75% sugar, I do think if I were a cartoon character and you could see clear through me, I'd be 50% cake, with the other half neatly split into quarters of wine and pork products. Sometimes I find it amazing that I open my eyes to live another day.

My most recent cake escapade took retro form: an upside-down cake. I have a few memories of upside-down cakes from growing up in the 70's; for some reason I never much cared for them. I wonder if it's because they were by and large pineapple, with freakishly bright maraschino cherries tucked inside the rings, which were themselves plucked from a can. I love pineapple, but I like it fresh and raw: hot pineapple seems weird to me.

I'm not afraid of other hot fruit though (although the phrase hot fruit sounds horrible) and after a bit of searching, I found a delicious-sounding recipe in Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food for cranberry upside-down cake. I would have swapped the fruit anyway, but even the divine Ms. W. herself suggests you try whatever fruit you like.

The cake was both rich and light--a nice payoff from the effort of whipping and folding in the egg whites. And while I had to make the caramel in a saucepan and then transfer it to my cake tin, as I don't have either an 8-inch cast iron skillet or a flame-proof baking pan, it posed no problem. The sweet-tart caramel-soaked plums settled into the moist, buttery cake just the way I hoped they would, and to my surprise, the entire thing lifted easily out of the pan without leaving a single stray plum behind. Though it would have been doubly good with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream, it was perfectly delightful on its own: for dessert the first night, and breakfast the day after.

Please note that the original recipe (for Cranberry Upside-Down Cake) calls for 2 3/4 c. fresh cranberries cooked in a saucepan with 1/4 c. orange juice until the cranberries start to pop. Remove from the heat and pour over the cooled caramel.

Since I used plums and the recipe did not indicate how many, I used 8 or 10, which was plenty.

Upside-Down Plum Cake
From The Art of Simple Food

1 1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
8-10 plums, depending on the size, pitted and cut into eighths, lengthwise
2 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 c. whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350.

Melt the brown sugar and 4 T. butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty cake pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (If, like me, you had to make the caramel in a saucepan, go ahead and pour it now into an 8-inch round or square cake pan.) Arrange the plums, rounded side down, in a ring around the outer edge. Working inward, make concentric circles with the plums until you fill up the pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the remaining 8 T. of butter to lighten. Add granulated sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.

When well mixed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with one-third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter and then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter over the plums and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. (Mine cooked for 45 and came out perfectly but I'm starting to wonder if my oven runs cool).  Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate.


  1. I think your ambivalence toward pineapple upside down cake comes from the fact that so many of us grew up with it made with canned pineapple. Try it with FRESH. Oh, it is so much better that way. In fact, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook has a fab recipe for one made with fresh pineapple. I've made it three times, and loved it each time.

  2. Oh yum, I have been eating way too much cake lately. Turning on the oven is a much nicer way of warming up in winter because I get to eat something as a bonus :) My cartoon character would be full of cake and pork too, but I think there would also be cookies and chocolate in there as well!

    This cake looks absolutely yummy and has my name on it!

  3. I just posted about how hot it was here and I had no desire to heat up the kitchen, but may have to so I can bake this for work! Very pretty. "..although the phrase hot fruit sound horrible..." made me laugh!

  4. The kids by and large eschew hot (cooked) fruit, but that doesn't stop me: I've been focusing on crisps and crumbles myself. Cherry season is just wrapping up in New J, so we've had both sweet and tart cherry crumbles. Then we picked several lbs. of blueberries, so we had to try a blueberry crisp next. All of the (winning) recipes had rolled oats and/or almonds in the topping, so maybe that's the ticket. Next up: that scrumptious-looking plum cake!

  5. Your cake looks SO moist! Plum cake is on my list of things to try this summer as I've never made one.

    Well done.

  6. Ooooooooooooooooooo! Umm-mmm!

    PS: added you to my blogroll. Can't miss all these recipes!

  7. Too much cake? How can that be? Not possible, I'm thinking. This, however, looks like a plum tarte tatin with a cake layer. So maybe it goes in the 'tarte' category.

    Or maybe it just goes on my plate! YUM.

  8. Ha! what about me and my blog LOL, i must be 99% sugar. Oh there is nothing like a good cake to keep a girl sweet daaaaahling, and this looks amazing :)

  9. That looks awesome! I love upside down cake, it's such a good time.

  10. CJ: I think you are right. Why don't I have the TK Ad Hoc cookbook yet?! Every day I hear about another amazing recipe from it...

    shaz: Oh, I think I've got some cookies and chocolate in me too :)

    tamilyn: this cake is definitely worth turning the oven on for!

    Jary: somehow I've missed the boat on cherries this year. And I've never even had tart cherries!

    D.A.: thank you!

    coloredgrains: thank you so much!

    Kate: yes, you're right about it being similar to a tart tatin...with cake. That's genius!

    HH: We sugar bunnies have to stick together!

    Bob: Thanks! And yes I'm a total convert to upside down cake now...

  11. Loved reading this post, especially the self-breakdown into cake, wine and pork (could be me as well, with some duck in there.) There is something about baking cakes, my favorite part has to be pouring the batter into the mold. This plum cake looks amazing, I don't think I've ever turned down a plum dessert, I prefer the fruit cooked over raw, for some reason.
    p.s. tried your rhubarb streusel bars, we loved them, especially that ginger icing!

  12. I could read a cake blog from you every day... just like I could eat cake every day! Since I've been making crisps and cupcakes lately, this type of upside down cake sounds like something to try next - it's like a combo of the two! - Pete

  13. well, now i can check plums off the list of fruits to be turned upside down--well done! i, too, am frightened by maraschino cherries and would prefer this version to the traditional pineapple cake any day. :)

  14. your upside plum cake sounds sooooo good!! Alice Waters is good choice for a recipe! Don't worry about being 75% sugar, you still have room for more sugar!

  15. This makes me wish I was a better baker.....

  16. Connie: thank you! And I think there would be some duck in me as well. Glad you tried the rhubarb bars!! I can't wait to make those again.

    Pete: Well I like the sound of crisps and cupcakes. What do you do with all the cupcakes, share with neighbors?

    grace: I find it weird that maraschino cherries even exist anymore...except for drinks.

    Chef Dennis: Thanks! And thank you so much for visiting! I'm looking forward to checking out your blog.

    A Little Yum: Practice makes perfect...

  17. I can't wait to try this! Alice Waters is THE BEST!
    Must admit, I grew up with pineapple upside down cakes (but not with those ghastly cherries!) and have always liked it. Alice's idea of using cranberries is brilliant...going to try that next Thanksgiving. But for now, the plums look delightful! Yummy recipe, Samantha!

  18. I don't think I've ever had a plum cake but your photos are absolutely delicious!

  19. I do love me some upside-down cake! And eating dessert for breakfast. And you've got me thinking of my own internal composition: probably a third sugar, with the rest being divided equally between cheese, wine, and organic vegetables. (At least I can feel good about that last one...)

  20. What a great use for plums! This looks so great :)

  21. Barbara: I hope you do try it! It was delicious. And I can't wait to try it with cranberries either.

    agrigirl: give it a try!

    camille: oh yes I forgot about cheese. I'd have to work that into the equation too...

    baking.serendipity: Thanks!

    Sophie: Thank you!

  22. Ooh I have a plum tree on the backyard that has a ton of fruit drooping the branches... gotta.get them before the birds and raccoons do! The cake looks delicious...

  23. foodhoe: I love plums, lucky you to have a tree!