Friday, July 29, 2011

Fresh Sweet Cherry & Nectarine Upside-Down Cake . . . with Honey Whipped Cream

As a kid, the only upside-down cake I ever encountered was the classic pineapple ring and maraschino cherry model. I couldn't stand the stuff. As I recall, my dad adored it. He was the only one in the family who showed unfettered interest. Not even my mom, devoted dessert lover that she was, could bring herself to crave the canned-fruit laden cake. As a rule, it was atrociously sweet, sodden with that sugary syrup and just not an altogether great concept. She'd make it for him, of course, but the woman had her standards; given the choice, she would always have opted for a slice of something chocolate.

I guess it's no surprise, then, why I've never launched with abandon into the production of that sticky, inverted confection. Those pineapple cakes may be endearing in a retro sort of way, but not enough so to motivate me into actually baking one. No siree.

But this cherry and nectarine upside-down cake, on the other hand, while bearing some resemblance to that toothache-inspiring item of yesteryear, isn't as cloying. Made with thin slices of ripe nectarine, fresh sweet cherries, honey, plain yogurt, a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a teeny tiny splash of peach schnapps thrown in to jazz things up, this baby's an improvement on that fusty old relic.

In fact, were the two cakes to pass on the street, I'd wager they'd acknowledge each other with a polite nod but, figuring they hadn't much in common, the pair wouldn't even stop to chat.

About this recipe . . .

Today's cake is adapted from a recipe in the gargantuan volume, Bon Appetit Desserts. It's a dream of a cookbook and, with 700+ pages, it's heavier than heck. Weighing in at 6.5 lbs., it's the size of a full-term newborn. They should sell it with a complementary stroller so readers can cart it around the house. Or, better yet, a forklift.

I customized the original recipe, which called for peaches along with a lot of spicy cardamom. What did I alter? In addition to using a combo of nectarines and cherries instead of peaches, I omitted the cardamom entirely, using just a little cinnamon and a scant pinch of nutmeg instead. I also added in a wee dab of peach schnapps, for a bit of zing, and I slightly increased the amount of salt (coarse kosher). Threw in the seeds of half a vanilla bean, and reduced the amount of granulated sugar in the cake by a small margin. In the honey whipped cream topping, I used less than half the amount of honey called for. (Have you ever mixed honey with heavy cream before? Fact is, you need a remarkably small amount to get the desired effect.)

With the adjustments, this cake is still sweet, but not ridiculously so. Some sweetness is just the nature of an upside-down cake. The flip-it-over-while-it's-still-really-hot concept wouldn't work without that gooey glaze permeating the top/bottom of the cake. In any case, if you want a concentrated sweetness infusion, an upside-down cake is definitely the ticket.

Fresh Sweet Cherry & Nectarine Upside-Down Cake 
with Honey Whipped Cream

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!) 

Yield: One 9" one-layer cake

6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (divided use)
1/4 honey (I used clover honey.)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 and 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Scant 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, large
2 tsp. peach schnapps (optional)
seeds of half a vanilla bean (or, 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 medium size nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced in crescents (about 1/4" thick)
Approximately 16 fresh sweet cherries, pitted

For the honey whipped cream:
(Note: The original recipe suggested adding a little plain yogurt into this mixture. I didn't try that, but thought I'd mention it in case you'd like to give it a whirl!)
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
2 tsp. honey (Or use up to 2 Tbsp. if you want really sweet whipped cream.) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in middle of oven. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 9" round cake pan. (After buttering, I took the extra step of lightly spraying the pan with vegetable oil spray; as far as I'm concerned, one can't be too careful where inverted cakes are concerned.)

In a medium size sauce pan, melt 2 Tbsp. of the unsalted butter. Add into that the brown sugar and the honey. Cook on medium high heat until the mixture begins to boil; stirring often, let boil for about 2 minutes or until the mixture begins to darken just a bit.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour all of it into the buttered pan. Set the pan aside; the syrup will harden in the pan while you're preparing the rest of the cake.

 In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and kosher salt. In the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium high speed, combine the remaining butter and the granulated sugar until it looks somewhat fluffy. Beat the egg into this on medium speed, along with the vanilla been seeds, and the peach schnapps.

Pour in half the flour mixture on medium speed just until well blended; blend in all of the yogurt. Add in the remaining flour on low speed, just until blended.

Arrange the nectarine slices (you may not need to use them all) in a spiral design around the edge of the cake pan, over the hardened syrup. Arrange the cherries similarly in the middle of the nectarine spiral. Using a spoon, gently dollop the soft batter over the fruit, being wary not to disrupt the design. Smooth the top of the batter carefully to completely cover all of the fruit.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and the sides begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let the finished cake cool for only 5 minutes after removing it from the oven. At that point, have your serving platter ready and place it snuggly over the top of the cake.

Quickly invert the hot cake pan onto the platter and delicately lift the hot pan off. If all goes well, you'll be faced with a lovely fruit design atop a glistening cake. Let the cake cool before slicing.

To make the honey whipped cream: 

Whip the cream in your mixer on medium speed in a chilled bowl. Drizzle the honey in and whip until the cream forms soft peaks. Add more honey to taste, if you'd prefer the whipped cream to be sweeter. Keep refrigerated and serve over individual slices of the cake.

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