Apple-Pecan Upside Down Cake

Those who know me well know that while I am a pretty good cook, baking is simply not my forte.  I think it has to do with the fact that baking = precision and chemistry, whereas cooking is more freestyle and loose.  You can experiment a lot more during the cooking of a dish than you can during the baking of something–after all, have you ever been able to make adjustments mid-bake to a cake you put in the oven?

We are headed to my aunt’s tomorrow for a get-together of a few of my mom’s siblings (she has 12 that still survive of the original 15), and I offered to bring a dessert.  I wanted something that wasn’t traditional holiday fare, like pumpkin, apple or cherry pie.  I was inspired on a trip to Central Market last week by the gorgeous apple display they’ve got in the produce department–there are no fewer than a dozen varieties of apples there!–and decided I’d bake a cake using apples.  But what kind of cake to bake?  After a bit of thought, I decided I’d go the upside down route.  Furthermore, I decided I’d get crazy and bake it in the Dutch oven I’ve got.  The result:

A variation of the upside down cake with a bourbon-tinged glaze that uses tart Granny Smith apples to balance the sweetness of the cake.

Earlier in the week, I’d made one that didn’t turn out nearly as beautiful as this one, but that was equally delicious.  I took a few liberties with this recipe and made it my own.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons good bourbon (Knob Creek is what I used)
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (I used this due to SB’s corn allergy; you may use corn syrup as Lyle’s is a specialty item)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate (or if you have the patience to make it, boiled cider)

Place all of the above ingredients into a microwave safe bowl and heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate
  • 1/4 cup good bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 3 very large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the inside of a 5-quart Dutch oven (or use a sufficiently large cake pan, with at least 4″ walls) and line the interior of the pan with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper as well–nonstick cooking spray is excellent for this purpose.

Peel and core one of the apples and slice it horizontally into 1/4″ slices so that the apple slices come off as rings.  Layer the apple rings in the bottom of the greased parchment in two layers that overlap one another (you can see this in the finished cake above).  Pour the glaze over the apple slices and allow this to sit while you make the batter.

Peel, core and grate the remaining apples and reserve in a bowl.  Set aside.  They will turn brown, but no worries since you will be folding them into the batter later.

Place your flour, salt, baking soda, and spices into a mixing bowl and sift them together, setting this aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Beat in the bourbon and vanilla, and then add the eggs one at a time.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture until it is fully incorporated with the sugar and eggs.  Finally, fold in the shredded apples.

Pour the batter into the pan containing the apples and glaze.  Cover the top of the batter with the pecans, taking care to evenly distribute them across the surface of the batter.  Bake for 70 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once done, allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.   Here’s where the removal gets a bit dicey.  I’ll tell you what I did to get it out of the pan, but feel free to remove it however you see fit.

I had two plates at the ready–one for serving, and one to hold the cake while I inverted it.  I pulled the cake out of the Dutch oven using the parchment paper and carefully laid it on one plate (not the serving platter).  I very carefully peeled the parchment from the perimeter of the cake, which took little effort since I sprayed the paper down with nonstick cooking spray.  Then I laid the serving platter upside down onto what is the bottom surface of the cake (pecan side) and carefully turned the cake over onto the serving platter and slowly removed the parchment so that I wouldn’t lose any apples from the top surface of the cake.

Now, I haven’t eaten a piece of this one but based on the one I made earlier in the week, I can tell you it is sweet and really needs either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to temper it.  It is a moist cake, owing to the shredded apples throughout, and is just plain GOOD.

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