bull’s eye with bright yellow rings by neon red cherries, upside down pineapple cake There’s a beloved American dessert: homey, nostalgic, boldly geometric. Ever since the recipe became popular in the 1920s, it has become so ingrained in our confectionery consciousness that an upside-down cake made from anything else seems like a mere idea.
But other fruits – juicy summer peaches, apricots, plums and nectarines; mounds of purple berries; Velvet Bananas – upside down cakes can make as good or even better than the usual pineapple. And they’re really the thing to bake right now, especially if you’re wondering what to do with that surf of stone fruits and berries leaking sticky nectar all over your kitchen island.
Ulta cake doesn’t require the ancient fruit you want for shortcakes or tarts. No matter how wrinkled your peaches are or spoiling your blueberries, once they’re caramelized and baked under the batter, they’ll be syrupy and colorful, a shimmering crown without the need for embellishments.
Its ease is the ability to lay down a dull fruit for essential use as an upside-down cake. Batter is a cinch to whip up in a bowl, which makes it quicker and easier to make than pie or galette crust. You can then bake the cake in the same skillet you used for the fruit—perfect for rented homes where kitchen equipment is scarce, parchment paper is nonexistent.
To bake would be to follow in the footsteps of a long line of pastry chefs who have turned up fruit desserts for centuries before stacking linen rings of pineapple in cans.
The most famous example, the true queen of all topsy-turvy desserts, is the French Tarte tatin, Created in the 19th century by the sisters of Stephanie and Caroline Tatin at their Loire Valley hotel, this apple tarts was based on an even older French tradition of renverses. Made from apples caramelized in sugar, then baked under a pastry crust, both of these confections resemble a whole style of upside-down apple pancakes, including krepelik. sansioux (also from France), called German apple pancakes apfelpfannkuchen and colonial american Apple TanseAll of which consist of a simple pancake batter covering the fruit instead of the crust.
In the United States of the 18th and 19th centuries, cakes were often baked in a skillet over hot coals, making them accessible to Americans without an oven. It was a very common practice to boil fruits in sugar syrup or in butter before pouring the batter. Whether the cake was eventually flipped for serving or served straight from the pan, the caramelized fruit and cake concept was the same (though pretty much when turned onto a serving plate).
One of the earliest recipes called “Upside-Down Cake” was published in the now-defunct Syracuse Herald in 1923. The prunes were the fruit in question, settled on brown sugar and butter, and speckled with walnuts. Other versions using apricots and sour cherries were also fashionable in the early 20th century.
Pineapple became popular in 1926 when Dole Sponsored a Recipe Contest, There were 60,000 entries; The 2,500 pineapples were for some version of the upside-down cake.
Pineapple has remained at the top of the upside-down pile ever since. In my twist on the classic, I mixed cherries, substituting fresh pineapple for canned and added pecans for texture. (I’ve also used nuts in my banana variation, which includes Bananas Foster-like vibes, but with the pleasant bonus of some cake and crunch.)
Although the recipe for Ulta Cake is straightforward, there are some best practices for the most tender icing and a fruit topping that’s sweet enough without being all that tempting.
The first is to caramelize the sugar before adding the fruit. Many older recipes omit this step in favor of simplicity, instead simply melting the butter, then sprinkling sugar on top. While it works, it results in a neutral sweetness with a muted caramel character.
Deeply caramelizing the sugar before adding the fruit tempers it, brings out a mild bitterness and adds layers of nutty complexity, and it only takes a few minutes. Don’t worry if the sugar sticks and settles, it will melt again when the cake is baked, becoming silky-smooth.
Another tip is to bake the cake for longer than you would a regular butter cake. This is due to the moisture in the fruit, especially stone fruits and berries, which have a high water content that can make the crumb soggy. The surface of the cake should be nicely browned all around, with darker edges that create a slight crunch. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out without any pieces.
Always let your cake rest for about 10 to 15 minutes, then turn it over on a platter so that both the fruit and the caramel harden a bit. But don’t let it go longer than that, or the caramel may cool and glue the fruit to the pan. Of course, you can always take it out and put it back on top of the cake. Then, slice, serve, and get ready for the top-down cake to fall over the top.