Sunday, August 19, 2007
Upside down, boy ya turn me
I like making upside down cakes. I like eating them, too, but making them is just as pleasurable. I feel the same way about pies - rolling the dough, laying the top on the filling, all so soothing. Which is why the film Waitress was about pie, and not, say, Danish pastries, which is far more enjoyable to eat than to make. But upside down cakes are fun. You cook the sugar and the butter a bit, then lay out the fruit very nicely, then make a basic cake batter and pour it over, simple, then bake. Finally, the great moment, when you turn the completed cake out of the pan and the top is revealed, all sugary and glistening, the fruit displayed in all its glory.
The Cooks Illustrated recipe is great, and that's the one I use when I want a basic butter cake, though sometimes I just use their proportions and technique for the topping, then switch a gingerbread cake in for tha base. The fruits they expect people to use are pineapple, pear, peach, apple or, interestingly enough, mango. I've made the pear version many times (that's the one that always gets gingerbread), and the peach once, though I can't say that would be a favorite use for a good summer peach. Make cobbler. It's better. Anyway, Cooks's list represents the most popular choices for upside down cake.
The results of an entirely unscientific study of upside down cake, via Google:
Peach upside down cake - approx. 289,000
Pineapple upside down cake - approx. 207,000
Apple upside down cake - approx. 12,400
Mango upside down cake - approx. 2,320
Pear upside down cake - 753
Fig upside down cake - 179 (about to be 180! Take that!)
Besides the surprising fact that there must be places in world where peaches are used more often for upside down cake than pineapple is, what these results tell me is that 1) not enough people are making or eating upside down cake and 2) people who are making it are stuck in a rut. Try something new, people. It's easy. It's good for you.
I decided to use figs* because I'm so fond of them caramelized - just sprinkled with sugar and touched with a torch. I figured upside down cake is a more elaborate way to get that flavor of caramelized sugar together with fig. I also added 3/4 teaspoon of cardamom to the cake batter, because my only issue with plain butter upside down cake is that the cake part alone can be a little dull (I'm not a cake person, really.) Cardamom marries well with figs, so in it went. And I think it worked out well - certainly the people who were eating it liked it enough to go back for seconds. My friend's little girl gave her special finger-to-the-cheek signal for yumminess, the highest of accolades.
*Figs may not be in season in New England itself, where only a few stubborn Portugese and Italian immigrants nurse their potted trees through the cold winter, but they are in season. They only appear on the shelves here for a few weeks out of the year. Get them while you can. If you're in Boston, this is the time of year to go to the Haymarket, where you can get little plastic containers of seven or eight figs for a dollar, far cheaper than the 99 cent per fig price at the grocery stores.