When I was a kid thought of upside down cakes as "dump cakes." You know, you dump the cake out of the pan and stuff runs everywhere. It seemed reasonable at the time, even if it sounded less than palatable to the average ear. My boys think upside down cakes are magic, and I had an audience when I turned this one out onto the serving plate. Top Gun stood as patiently as he possibly could, his eyes big as saucers when I lifted off the pan, and he simply said, "Wow." Then after tasting a few crumbs he wanted to know when we were having dessert.
I like upside down cakes because the fruit and glaze looks so pretty on the top, and for the most part they are easy to make. You can serve them as is or dress it up for guests with a little whipped cream or ice cream; either way, you have a simple cake that looks beautiful and works well for dessert or brunch.
With cranberries in season, this is an easy and tasty way to use them. The tartness of the berries and the orange juice balances the sweetness of the brown sugar, the orange zest carries on the theme in the cake, and the whipped cream has just a touch of orange flavor with Grand Marnier.
The fruit and glaze is easily made on the stove top in the cake pan, an added bonus because you don't have to dirty another pan, and you can use a standard aluminum cake pan or an oven-proof skillet, such as cast iron. If you decide to use a cake pan, make sure it isn't coated with paint because those paints often are not designed to take direct heat from a stove or cooktop.
[Updated December 4, 2011.]
Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake
- stand mixer with paddle and wire whisk attachments or hand mixer and large bowl
- 9-inch round cake pan (plain aluminum, no paint on bottom), 8-inch square with tall sides, or a 10-inch seasoned cast iron skillet
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 ¾ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2 ounces fresh orange juice
- 1 ¼ cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- zest of one orange
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs (room temperature)
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1¼ cups sour cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or fresh orange juice
- Place the cake pan on a burner and turn it on low. Add the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the pan and melt. Stir while the sugar mixture continues cooking until it turns a dark brown. Stay with it and don't allow it to burn. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The butter and sugar will form a crust as it cools.
- Add the cranberries and walnuts (optional), making sure they fill the bottom of the pan. Pour in the orange juice and tilt the pan to evenly distribute it. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
- In the small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the orange zest and rub it with your fingers to release the oils into the flour. Set aside.
- In the bowl of the stand mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing and scraping down the bowl after each.
- Add the vanilla and sour cream, and mix thoroughly.
- Turn the mixture speed to low, and slowly add the flour mixture, mixing for about 10 seconds. Finish folding in the flour with a spatula, taking care to not over mix.
- Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until the tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cake to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a plate for serving.
- In the bowl of the stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the cream, sugar, and Grand Marnier until you have stiff peaks. Serve on top of slices of the cake.