Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apple Upside-Down Cake from America's Test Kitchen

Now that fall has arrived, what better way to enjoy autumnal apple flavors than with an upside-down cake? It's a wonderful dessert using fresh apples from your local farmers' market or from your own trees. The flavors are divine, a change from the usual apple pie and pineapple upside-down cake, something different yet familiar. The cake turns out beautiful once revealed and released from the pan.

I saw this recipe demonstrated on the television show America's Test Kitchen, my favorite PBS cooking show. Using meticulous attention to detail and a scientific approach to testing various recipes, ingredients, tools, and methods, America's Test Kitchen chefs create recipes that satisfy. Watching the chefs prepare this cake convinced me to go online to print out the recipe and try it.

My primary addition to the recipe is adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to the apples when adding the brown sugar. I'm a big cinnamon lover, and love combining apples with cinnamon in recipes. My favorite cinnamons are the ones from Penzey's Spices, especially the Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia and the Chinese Cassia blends. I've tried all of Penzey's cinnamon varieties, and love their cinnamon sugar too for an easy way to add a lovely sweet fragrance and flavor to oatmeal, cinnamon toast, muffins, etc.

Now what about the delectable results? First enjoy the intoxicating smell emanating from the oven while the cake cooks. Then wait patiently for the cake to cool while your stomach grumbles, first for twenty minutes on a wire rack and then for another twenty minutes once it's inverted from the pan. Waiting makes your mouth water even more, and the anticipation creates an overwhelming urge to dig in. Then comes the payoff, the moment when you can finally take your first bite. The combination of warm, tart, cinnamony apples with butter and brown sugar makes a luscious fruit topping. And the buttery yellow cake underneath has just the right firmness, texture, and cakey goodness to complement the apple topping just so.

All the little details in the recipe add up to create this scrumptious confection, from slicing the apples in two batches with different thicknesses and cooking times, to the additions of sour cream and cornmeal to the cake batter, to using firmer Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples to prevent sogginess. Everything works together in perfect harmony, all the effort and waiting are worth it, and the cake not only looks beautiful but tastes fabulous. This cake makes a great dessert for any fall day, an autumnal treat that will not soon be forgotten.

The website requires user registration in order to access recipes, but it's free, easy, and worth it. Without further ado, here's the recipe, adapted to include my cinnamon addition. Enjoy.

Apple Upside-Down Cake

From the episode: Old-Fashioned Fruit Desserts
Serves 8

You will need a 9-inch nonstick cake pan with sides that are at least 2 inches high for this cake. Alternatively, use a 10-inch ovenproof stainless steel skillet (don’t use cast iron) to both cook the apples and bake the cake, with the following modifications: Cook the apples in the skillet and set them aside while mixing the batter (it’s OK if the skillet is still warm when the batter is added) and increase the baking time by 7 to 9 minutes. If you don’t have either a 2-inch high cake pan or an ovenproof skillet, use an 8-inch square pan.
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , cut into 4 pieces, plus extra for pan
  • 4 Granny Smith apples or Golden Delicious (about 2 pounds), peeled and cored
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar (4 2/3 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon high quality cinnamon such as Penzey's Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia
  • 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. FOR THE TOPPING: Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch round, 2-inch-deep nonstick cake pan; set aside. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Halve apples from pole to pole. Cut 2 apples into 1/4-inch-thick slices; set aside. Cut remaining 2 apples into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Heat butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add 1/2-inch-thick apple slices and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times, until apples begin to caramelize, 4 to 6 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Add 1/4-inch-thick apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice; continue cooking, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and apples are coated, about 1 minute longer. Transfer apple mixture to prepared pan and lightly press into even layer. Set aside while preparing cake.
3. FOR THE CAKE: Whisk flour, cornmeal (if using), baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. Whisk granulated sugar, brown sugar, and eggs together in large bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter until combined. Add sour cream and vanilla; whisk until combined. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and spread evenly over fruit. Bake until cake is golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
4. Cool pan on wire rack 20 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Place wire rack over cake pan. Holding rack tightly, invert cake pan and wire rack together; lift off cake pan. Place wire rack over baking sheet or large plate to catch any drips. If any fruit sticks to pan bottom, remove and position it on top of cake. Let cake cool 20 minutes (or longer to cool it completely), then transfer to serving platter, cut into pieces, and serve.

    Precook half of apples in butter to deepend their flavor and reduce their volume, allowing more to be added.
    Add raw apples, brown sugar, and lemon juice to pan, then cook briefly to preserve fresh flavor.
    Transfer apple topping to cake pan and gently press into even layer.
    Spread batter over apple topping and bake.
    Let cake cool in pan for 20 minutes to help set apple topping, then transfer to cooling rack to keep cake bottom dry.

1 comment:

  1. This looks delicious. I can't wait to try it.