Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Upside-Down Nectarine & Corn Skillet Cake
Upside-down cakes are one of the most classic cakes you could possibly make/enjoy. Everyone knows and loves the classic pineapple upside down cake- it's a celebrated simple cake made better with the addition of sweetened pineapple rings and super red maraschino cherries. Baked in a round cast iron skillet, it's a cake that needs no introduction, because when it's mentioned, you know exactly what to expect. But then again, you might be like me and never have actually eaten a piece of upside-down pineapple-marschino cherry-geometric pattern cake. I know, I'm probably missing out, but for some reason, it's never been a cake that I've felt like I truly needed to experience. It's a simple cake, sure, and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I actually kinda like maraschino cherries (in all their unnatural red, fake glory), but I don't know. Something about this classic cake has just always seemed a little bit...off.
While I've never actually had the classic pineapple upside down cake, I have always loved the look of them. Not so much the pineapple-maraschino version, specifically, but any other cake or dessert with beautifully arranged fruit appearing after a quick inversion of the baking dish has always captivated me. It's such a lovely surprise, and a beautifully simple way to present a finished dessert. Upside-down treats like tarte tatin, and simple fruit tarts with perfectly arranged fruits are some of my favorite things to look at, and I needed to make one before the summer and its bounty of amazing produce ended.
I wanted my upside-down treat to be simple and rustic, unfussy and sophisticated in an unpretentious way. When I came across a recipe for an upside down skillet cornmeal cake, I knew I found my answer to my upside-down dilemma. The cake as a whole was perfectly simple, but the cake portion itself was more interesting than that in a typical upside-down cake, thanks to the addition of a little cornmeal. Cornmeal is quickly becoming one of my very favorite ingredients, simply because of the interesting texture it gives everything it is added to. It keeps things a little rustic and rough around the edges, but gives a flavor that when used correctly, can yield simply sophisticated results.
This upside-down cake was so quick to put together. First, generous amounts of butter and brown sugar are melted together in a cast iron skillet. This will both prevent the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the skillet, and will help create a perfectly sweetened layer of fruit. Once a thick syrup has formed, the skillet can be removed from the heat and the fun part begins- arranging the fruit! I chose to use nectarines because I thought they would pair nicely with the cornmeal, and because they're one of my favorite summer fruits. This cake can be prepared with pretty much any kind of fruit, so if nectarines aren't your favorite, go ahead and pick a fruit you like better. Once the fruit has been arranged, the cake batter can be quickly mixed up in an electric stand mixer. The batter is poured over the arranged fruit and the cake is baked- that's it! Easy and quick. The only cautionary piece of advice I can give has to do with removing the cake from the skillet. Make sure to have your serving plate ready because the cake needs to be inverted within minutes of being removed from the hot oven, otherwise the fruit will stick to the skillet. When you invert the cake and finally lift the skillet to reveal the arranged fruit, be aware that there will be a lot of steam that will get released, so just be careful. Aside from that, this cake is pretty much fool-proof.
It should be pretty obvious that I loved this cake. The cake itself was the perfect amount of sweet, as in, it was barely sweetened, which is always a plus for me. This barely sweetened layer of cake was complimented wonderfully by the sweet layer of baked nectarines on top. Each layer was good on its own, but the best bites featured both bits of cake and sweet nectarines. The cornmeal gave the cake a texture that I absolutely fell in love with, and has made me want to try adding cornmeal to just about everything. I just can't get enough of the stuff! This upside-down nectarine and corn skillet cake was just what I needed last weekend. It combined my love for simple cakes with my fascination for perfectly arranged fruit desserts, and I am so happy to have found this recipe. I see myself making this cake all year long, simply by changing up the fruit according to the seasons. Enjoy!
Upside-Down Nectarine & Corn Skillet Cake
recipe adapted slightly from Sweet and Vicious: Baking with Attitude
For the Fruit Layer
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
5 nectarines, sliced thick (I did 8 slices per nectarine)
For the Cake
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine-ground cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
Begin by preparing the fruit layer. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter and swirl to coat the entire pan. Add the brown sugar to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar has melted completely and begun to bubble slightly. Remove the skillet from the heat, and arrange the sliced nectarines in a decorative pattern to cover the bottom of the skillet. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg, and set aside.
In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract, followed by the eggs, adding them one at a time and beating until smooth after each addition. With the mixer running on low speed, beat in half of the flour mixture. Stir in the milk until combined, and then add in the remaining flour mixture, mixing only until just incorporated.
Pour the batter over the fruit, taking care not to move around the fruit. An offset spatula will help smooth things out on top. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the skillet and the center feels set to the touch. Remove the cake, and let it cool for five minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the skillet and carefully place a large serving platter over the top of the skillet and flip the skillet over to turn the cake out onto the plate. Remove the skillet carefully, there will be a lot of steam released! Let the cake cool to room temperature before slicing, or serve warm if desired. Enjoy!
Makes 1 10-inch cake