Saturday, June 27, 2015

Apricot Upside-Down Cake


The CSA box keeps sending us apricots. Lovely, plump, fresh apricots that should probably be enjoyed solely on their own because they are so sweet. However, the sheer abundance of them demands that we find multiple ways to use them in a week (there are only so many apricots one can snack on). So here we are.



I have had apricots on my mind, far beyond the CSA box's insistence that I eat them and eat a lot of them now. For you see, I just finished Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby. You may know Solnit from her lovely book-length essay entitled Men Explain Things To Me or her whimsical look at San Francisco in Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (which is how I was introduced to her). However, this past spring break, I was wandering around yet another local bookstore, looking for something to read. 

For whatever reason, The Faraway Nearby jumped out at me, and I snuggled into a booth at the nearby coffee shop and was immediately taken in by Solnit's story of a mound of apricots from her mother's tree that arrived at her doorstep. Using the pile of apricots as the first of many metaphors in the book, Solnit confronts her own mortality, our need for storytelling, and her mother's descent into Alzheimer's. The essays in this book meander and digress but always loop back upon these apricots, as Solnit eats them, as she cans them, and as they decompose. While she cannot solve the mystery of her mother, she can try to confront the impossible "abundance of unstable apricots." Her inheritance seems to be the underripe, the ripe, and the decaying.

So when we got two bags of apricots (another apricot-themed post promised in the future, I assure you), I kept thinking back on Solnit and her beautiful book.



This recipe was not on page 215; however, it seemed so promising, I just had to make it (plus, I needed to make a dessert for family dinner, and this recipe just waltzed right in). 

We all, of course, are familiar with the upside-down-pineapple cake complete with canned rings of pineapple and lurid maraschino cherries. Don't get me wrong--I love me some upside-down-pineapple cake. However, the fine folks at the Ferry Building with their lovely little cookbook have other ideas for what to make upside down. In fact, they insist that basically any fruit can be done so (and is backed up by the empirical evidence of cranberries, peaches with bourbon, salted caramel apple, raspberries with blackberries, and blueberries with lemon). All you need is fruit, a gooey butter and brown sugar base, and a tasty cake to top it all (which of course gets flipped and made into the base).




The making of the fruit layer is as easy as can be. Melt butter, add sugar, spread over the bottom of a pan. Then comes the hard part: the tough work of deciding just how you are going to slice and arrange your fruit. With apricots, it might be just as good to slice them into little crescents as it is to leave them in halves (as I chose), but I liked the idea of a big mound of sticky and sweet apricot in every bite.

This particular recipe tops the apricots with a lovely spice cake of cinnamon and vanilla and almond rather than the traditional white cake one finds with the pineapple variety. The contrast of the spice cake with the apricots ratchets this cake up a couple of notches and brings it out of homey fare and into downright special. Plus, I always love the pairing of apricots and almonds--so sweet and nutty.

I did find the cake a little dry, perhaps because the butter and sugar didn't get a chance to permeate all the way down. Next time, perhaps, I won't put quite so much cake on top of the fruit. Because, people, there will be a next time, I promise.




Now for the part that most people dread when it comes to the upside-down cake: inverting the cake. Indeed, it is a science. If you do it when the cake is fresh from the oven, the butter and brown sugar haven't had a chance to set. If you do it when the cake is too cool, then the butter and brown sugar stick to the bottom of the pan. However, do not fear.

Ten minutes seems to be the optimal time for flipping the cake. So set your timer and trust in the butter. A motto, perhaps, to live by. When the time comes, invert a serving plate on top of the cake pan, hold onto the edges with your oven mitts, take a deep breath, and then flip. Perfect results. 

(Okay, I did have one apricot that got left behind in the bottom of the pan, but I simply took it out and placed it on the cake. I dare you to figure out which one it was.)




Ah, I am so glad my CSA box keeps sending me apricots: from the jolt back to Solnit's book to the necessity of making apricot-themed desserts, such additions of these fruits have been fine ones to my summer.

Keep 'em coming, Full Belly Farm!

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Apricot Upside-Down Cake


Yield:
Serves 8-10

Ingredients: 
For the fruit layer:
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
8-11 firm, ripe apricots (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved and pitted  

For the cake layer:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract  

Instructions:
1.  Position the oven rack on the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x2-inch round cake pan.

2.  To make the fruit layer: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Arrange the apricot halves, cut side down and tightly pushed up against each other, on the sugar mixture. Set aside.

3.  To make the cake layer: All ingredients should be at room temperature. Sift together the flour, baking bowder, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add the sugar and brown sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy (about 5 minutes).

4.  Add the eggs one at a a time, beating well after each addition. Measure the milk into a measuring cup and then add the vanilla and almond extracts to it. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 2 batches alternatively with the milk mixture in two batches, combining thoroughly until smooth after each addition.Spread the batter evenly over the fruit layer. 

5.  Bake the cake until it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Using a thin-bladed knife, gently release any portion of the cake sticking to the sides of the pan. Then, wearing oven mitts, slightly tilt the pan to ensure the cake is not sticking to the sides, invert a serving plate on top of the cake pan and invert the cake and the plate together. Then, gently lift it off.   

6.  While the cake is still warm, spoon any brown sugar "sauce" that remains in the pan onto the apricots. Serve warm or at room temperature. 


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