This cake lends itself toward any fruit that cooks up well. (Joe Lingeman/TNS)
By Dana Velden, TheKitchn.com
June 14, 2021 Updated: June 14, 2021
Surely everyone is familiar with the classic pineapple upside-down cake, topped with rings of canned pineapple and dotted with neon-red maraschino cherries, all nestled in a brown sugar glaze. What many people don’t know is that nearly any fruit can be subbed in for the pineapple-cherry combo with fresh, delicious results. Read on for our basic recipe for making upside-down cakes with fresh fruits all year long!
Developed sometime around the turn of the last century, when canned pineapple was invented, the pineapple upside-down cake is a classic American cake that has probably passed the peak of its popularity. It’s true that tastes have changed over the last 100 years, and things like canned pineapple and maraschino cherries aren’t as popular they once were, but the upside-down cake, with its buttery brown sugar glaze balanced by the simple white cake below, still holds a lot of appeal.
These days, many people make the cake with pineapple, only they may use fresh fruit or leave off the day-glo maraschino cherries. I personally like the canned pineapple version enough, but really love it when fresh pineapple is used. However, my favorite way to reinvent this cake is to use fresh or frozen seasonal fruit, and if I’m feeling really creative, some chopped fresh herbs.
What Fruit Works for This Cake?
This cake lends itself toward any fruit that cooks up well, which is any fruit you’d make a pie with. The cake pictured here is made with strawberries and rhubarb. Some of my other favorites are peaches, nectarines, cherries, berries, apples, pears, bananas, mangos, apricots and figs.
I suppose you could even use citrus, like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons, although I haven’t tried it, so I can’t be certain. Plums are good if they’re not too ripe and juicy.
Finely chopped herbs such as basil or lemon thyme are another more updated addition. Peaches and nectarines are great with basil, and lemon thyme is delicious with just about anything. Mint would work with almost any fruit as well, and rosemary would be perfect with figs. Spices such as cinnamon would be good for fall versions of this cake, when fresh apples, persimmons, or pears would be a natural choice.
Can I Use Frozen Fruit?
Fresh fruit is great, but frozen fruit works as well, so don’t hesitate to use it. The only thing you want to be careful about is not using fruit that has been stored in juice or syrup. You want unsweetened, individual pieces—and be sure that they are still frozen when adding them to the topping before baking, as they are easier to handle that way.
This basic recipe for upside-down cake uses less sugar than the classic recipe, which can have up to one cup of brown sugar and a whole stick of butter for the topping alone. I find that using less butter and sugar really allows the taste of the fruit to come through. Don’t worry—you will still have a sticky, decadent topping!
Will a Cast-Iron Skillet Work?
Another classic method is to make the cake in a cast-iron skillet. The only downside to this is if your cast-iron skillet has been heavily seasoned using savory foods like onions and garlic, because those flavors can sometimes transfer to the sweet cake. But if you don’t think this will be an issue, or if you have a skillet that is reserved for sweet dishes, then by all means use it.
How Do I Arrange the Fruit?
The amount of prepared fruit needed for the topping is roughly two to three cups. The reason why this is a rough number is that fruit measures differently, depending on how it is cut. A cup of blueberries will be much different than a cup of sliced apples, for instance. What you want is at least a single layer of fruit covering the bottom of the pan, although you can let it pile up a little, too. It’s good to really crowd the pan, as the fruit will shrink some when cooking.
What’s the Foolproof Way to Flip the Cake?
The cake needs to be removed from the pan shortly after it has been taken from the oven, or the fruit will stick. This can be a little tricky, as the fruit and brown sugar topping is still quite hot and can burn.
I do this by placing the cake straight from the oven onto a cooling rack. As soon as the fruit has stopped bubbling (about one minute), I place a cake plate over the cake and, using hot pads, pick up the rack, cake, and cake plate. Holding all three firmly, in one motion I flip over to invert the cake. I set the whole stack down on the counter and remove the rack, and then carefully remove the cake pan.
There will be hot steam from the fruit, so use caution! This is reason why a skillet is a good choice, as the handle makes it easy to remove.
How to Make an Upside-Down Cake With Almost Any Fruit
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake (serves 8 to 10)
For the Topping
- 2 to 3 cups sliced or chopped fruit
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup granulated or brown sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (optional)
For the Cake
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the Topping
If you are using fresh fruit, be sure it is washed and dried. Slice it into wedges or dice it into large 1-inch chunks. Most berries can be left whole and smaller stone fruit such as cherries and apricots can be halved. If using frozen fruit, do not defrost.
Place your 9-inch baking pan or skillet on a burner over low heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the sugar and stir it gently.
Arrange the fruit in a single layer in the baking pan, being sure to crowd the pan as much as possible. The fruit will shrink a little when cooked. If using herbs, sprinkle them on top of the fruit.
Make the Cake
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until lightened and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and mix until smooth, an additional minute of mixing.
With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, like this: Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated about 30 seconds. Add half of the milk, mixing until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add half of the remaining flour, mixing again for about 30 seconds, followed by the remaining milk and 30 seconds of mixing. Finally add the remaining flour and mix until completely smooth, about 1 minute total.
Dollop the fruit with the cake batter, being sure it is evenly distributed. Smooth with a spatula.
Place the cake in the oven. You might want to put it on a baking sheet to catch any overflow (sometimes the fruit bubbles up). Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a thin knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the baking sheet and place it on a cooling rack. Let the cake settle for a minute, until any fruit that has leaked up the sides has stopped bubbling. Do not let the cake cool, or you will not get it out of the pan! Run a knife around the edges of the cake. Place your cake plate over the cake and, using hot pads, carefully flip the cake over. Gently remove the cake pan. Be careful, as the fruit and glaze is still quite hot and will burn your hands!
If any pieces of fruit are stuck to the cake pan, gently scrape them up with a knife and replace them on the cake. Let the cake cool.
Serve the cake at room temperature or slightly warm. Top with barely sweetened whipped cream if desired.
Recipe Note: To store, wrap carefully in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container and keep for several days at room temperature.
Dana Velden is a contributor to TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2021 Apartment Therapy. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Dana Velden, TheKitchn.Com