Eagle County High Country Baking: Apple upside-down cake
VAIL CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Can you recall a time when TV was broadcast in black and white and The I Love Lucy Show was as popular as Dancing with the Stars is now? Those were the days when upside-down cakes were a dessert staple. Today they’re as retro as you can get and, like many other things from that period, they’re making a comeback. The new interest in them isn’t due to nostalgia alone; they’re a true comfort food … sweet, homey, and pleasing in their simplicity.
While pineapple was the fruit of choice in the 1940s and ’50s, this upside-down cake features a gooey layer of sliced apples in a butter-brown sugar sauce that flavors and moistens a soft, sweet cake. Served warm with a little ice cream, its down-to-earth qualities will charm you.
The cake comes together in two steps: First, the apples, sliced and sauteed in butter and sugar to assure their tenderness, are arranged over the brown-sugar sauce. Next, the cake batter is prepared (a simple blending of dry and wet ingredients) and carefully spread over them. Once baked, the cake is inverted so the apples are on top and the sauce drips down and into the cake.
Apple upside-down cake
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in an eight inch round pan with at least 1 1/2 inch sides
3 Granny Smith Apples
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
3/4 cup of dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs at room temperature
8 tablespoons (half of a cup) of room-temperature buttermilk, divided
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of all -purpose flour (spoon and level)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch (about 1/16 of a teaspoon) of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Lightly grease the sides (not the bottom) of the pan.
Make the topping: Peel, core and cut the apples into slices about 1/4-inch wide. (Keep the slices thin or they won’t cook through). Melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add two tablespoons of granulated sugar and stir until combined. Put the apple slices in the skillet and stir to coat them with the butter-sugar mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon or apple pie spice if you choose (optional). Cover the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples release their juices and the liquid starts to evaporate. Remove the cover and stir until the apple slices have softened and caramelized slightly. Remove the skillet from the heat and set it aside.
Cut three tablespoons of unsalted butter into small pieces and put them in the bottom of the baking pan. Place the pan on the stove over medium-low heat and stir until the butter is almost melted. Start sprinkling the brown sugar over the butter, two tablespoons or so at a time and whisk or stir to combine until all the sugar is incorporated into the melted butter. Remove the pan from the heat, tip it to spread the topping evenly over the pan bottom and arrange the apple slices over the butter-brown sugar mixture. Set this aside.
Make the Cake: Combine the eggs, 2 tablespoons of buttermilk, and the vanilla in a 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl and whisk to combine well. Set this aside.
Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer on low-medium speed, combine them thoroughly. Add the six tablespoons of cut-up room-temperature butter and 6 tablespoons (one quarter cup plus two tablespoons) of room-temperature buttermilk and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to high (hand-held mixer) and mix for a minute and forty seconds (yup, time yourself). Add one-third of the egg mixture and beat for twenty-five seconds. Scrape the bowl well and repeat two times. Spoon the batter over the apples, taking care not to disturb them. Level the top and tap the pan to rid it of air bubbles. Place on a baking sheet (there may be some drips) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the sides start to pull away from the pan. This takes about 35-43 minutes in my oven.
Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack and cool for about three minutes. Run a knife or thin metal spatula around the pan sides. Place a serving platter over the cake and invert it (use potholders, the pan is still HOT). Let it sit a minute and, then, carefully lift off the pan. If any of the topping sticks to the pan, gently remove it and place it back on the cake.
Serve warm or at room temperature with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream, sweetened whipped cream, or creme fraiche.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com.