‘Tis the season for apple picking. Or, if (ahem) you’re in denial about that certain season, and also about the veryveryimminent life changes you’re anticipating, you might spend Sunday mornings gallivanting around the farmers’ market in all-too-summery yoga clothes, enjoying the sun and stocking up on way too many “second” apples at 99 cents a pound. It’s basically just like apple picking, only lazier. Either way, you wind up with a fridge full of apples, and a sinking sensation that what looked like such an amazing bargain! is now a very real item on the to-do list: make apple stuff. Oh, it’s on your to-do list also? Welcome to the club.
So here’s one “apple stuff” for you to make this weekend. An upside-down upside-down cake, where the upside-down bit is left right where it started. Can we call it a right-side up cake? Good. Don’t worry: there’s caramel involved. And the cake part isn’t anything to scoff at, either: it’s a beautifully feathery, well-spiced gingerbread that I can see baking up on its own in a loaf pan and serving with tea.
Do you have beautiful, burnished, spot-free apples? Great: save them for fancy company. This is a cake in which your 99-cent seconds can hide their blemishes and find a happy home. The brown spots don’t matter. Heck, it doesn’t even matter what kind of apples you use. I had two golden delicious and two honeycrisps with plenty of spots in the drawer, and they worked great.
About the whole right-side up thing, because I know you’re wondering: I get that it takes a rather peculiar disposition to go seek out a recipe for upside-down cake, then insist on serving it right-side up. I’d like to take credit for some creativity (or hey, peculiarity) but in truth, it all happened by accident. I put the apples in a pretty pattern, intending to display them when serving. I drizzled the caramel carefully and made a really beautiful cake bottom, but then the thing came out of the oven and I remembered that I really like crust.
Judging by how many bakeries sell muffin tops these days, I’m guessing many of you do, too. And the top of this cake is a really good one, not unlike the crust of a good muffin, that I hesitated to give up just to show off its underbelly. Taste over beauty any day. Plus, if you ask me, this cake is still quite the looker, even if it’s less inclined to flaunt the goods.
I made this in a 9-inch pan, instead of the 10-inch called for in the original recipe. While the baking time was much longer, I liked the taller cake and the (seemingly) more feathery crumb. Your choice; I’ve included instructions for both. But if you can avoid it at all, don’t use a springform pan. I did, and I ended up having to wrap the outside in foil to help stop the caramel from leaking out.
If you decide to flip this cake upside-down after all, your apples will fare better if you cut them in wedges. I sliced mine more thinly, which made for a great underside, but the wedges will stay firmer.
4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
4 apples (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch wedges or slices
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Softly whipped cream, optional
Make the topping: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a (non-springform) 9- or 10-inch round pan.
Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When butter has melted, add brown sugar, stir to combine, and simmer for four minutes, until deep brown, bubbly, and very fragrant. Add the salt and remove from the heat. Drizzle half the caramel into the bottom of your cake pan. Then layer the apple slices into the cake pan in a circular pattern, and drizzle the remaining caramel overtop.
Make the batter: Using a stand or electric mixer, blend butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Combine egg, molasses, honey, and buttermilk in one bowl, and the dry ingredients in another. Then, with the mixer on low speed, alternate adding wet and dry ingredients to the butter mixture, making sure to end with the dry ingredients.
Pour the batter into the pan over the apples. For a 10-inch pan, bake for 45-50 minutes; for a 9-inch pan, bake 60-70 minutes (mine took the full 70), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake on a rack for 10 or 15 minutes, then either serve warm, or carefully flip onto a rimmed platter.
I served this plain, but Deb and Karen Bates both recommend softly whipped cream. It certainly can’t hurt.