Step aside, pineapple! How to turn any cake upside-down — complete with a modern upgrade

The pineapple upside-down cake went viral long before social media. The concept first appeared in the 1920s as an elegant, sophisticated dessert that took home the gold medal in a now-famous Dole recipe contest and after that the recipe was passed from housewife to housewife. Even to this day, its popularity hasn’t waned. Now considered a retro classic, it still makes appearances at potlucks, picnics and barbecues and its trendiness is easily explained: It’s super delicious, easy to make and truly a work of art.

Classic versions of this dessert features pineapple rings and maraschino cherries that are arranged in the bottom of a cake pan with butter and sugar, then topped with batter and placed in the oven. Once the cake is baked, it’s inverted to reveal the gem-like fruit. And while the pineapple version made the upside-down cake widely known in North America, the concept was around long before then. Upside-down cakes used to be known as skillet cakes, which pre-date the modern oven, going all the way back to the Middle Ages. They were made in — you guessed it — a skillet over a fire or stovetop in which you’d first caramelize the fruit and sugar, then cover it with a batter. Once cooked, it was flipped to expose the beautiful self-saucing cake. For centuries, chefs and home cooks alike have experimented with different fruit and cake combinations to create a world of endless upside-down cake possibilities.

With the help of Instagram and TikTok, my very own upside-down cake recipe went viral. If you haven’t heard of it, let me introduce you: Miso and Banana Upside-Down Cake.

Caramelized bananas top a tender banana cake that’s made with mashed, overripe bananas in the batter and a hit of shiro miso (aka white miso) in the caramel gives it a smack of rich umami. It’s a perfect combination of savory and sweet flavors, yet just one of the many upside-down cake possibilities. Ready to make an upside-down cake with your own combination of fruit and caramel? Here’s everything you need to know.

The Fruit

So you’re wondering what fruit to use and exactly how much of it? There’s really no wrong answer here. Is frozen fruit all you have on hand? Great! Peaches, cherries, you name it — throw ’em right in the pan without thawing. If you use frozen fruit, you’ll need to extend your bake time because of the added moisture, so tack on another five to ten minutes and check for doneness before removing your cake from the oven. For fresh fruit, if you’re using apples, pears, stone fruit or bananas, make sure your fruit is not overripe and maintains a bit of firmness. This will help the fruit keep its integrity during the bake. Like frozen fruit, you’ll also want to extend bake times for juicier fruit like berries and cherries. As for how much fruit to use, you’ll want enough fruit to cover the surface of whatever vessel you’re using, usually around two to three cups for an 8- or 9-inch cake pan.

Once you’ve made your fruit selection, it’s time to think about cutting it. If fruit is cut too thinly, it will turn into mush during the bake. Aim for ½-inch-thick slices so that they stay intact. If using small fruit like apricots or Italian plums, you can simply pit and halve them and arrange them cut-side down. If you’re cutting chunks of any type of fruit, aim for 1-inch-thick pieces. Feel free to dump the fruit right into the cake pan, fan the fruit slices to make it pretty or choose your own adventure.

The Cake

The world is your oyster when it comes to cake! Chocolate cake, olive oil cake, polenta cake, banana cake, white cake, chiffon cake, pound cake, almond cake . . . you get the idea. Here are some of my recommendations: Peaches pair nicely with an almond crumb cake, sour cherries sing atop a rich chocolate cake and sweet blood oranges balance the delicate flavors of an olive oil crumb cake. If you have arranged your fruit in a pattern, I recommend spooning your first cake batter layer over so the arrangement doesn’t get disturbed, then gently pour the rest.

The Caramel

The fruit in a classic upside-down cake caramelizes in a butter and brown sugar mixture that gets poured into the cake pan before anything else is added. However, sometimes butter is omitted altogether and the fruit is gently tossed with sugar beforehand. Once again, there’s no wrong answer about how you choose to make an upside-down cake. Looking for something richer? Add butter! About 4 tablespoons of butter is ample for an 8- or 9-inch cake pan. As for brown sugar, it really depends on how sweet your fruit is and how sweet you want the cake to be. I recommend scaling between ¼ cup and ½ cup. If you want to keep your fruit looking as vibrant as possible, opt for white sugar. You can add things like citrus zest, fresh herbs or miso (like I use in my recipe) to enhance the overall flavor of your caramel. To make the caramel, you’ll melt the butter and whisk in the sugar along with any flavoring before pouring it into the pan (you can do this on the stovetop or in the microwave).

The Cooking Vessel

You can use any greased cake pan, casserole dish or oven-safe skillet (like a cast-iron or ceramic option) when it comes to upside-down cakes. If you’re using a cake pan, I recommend cutting a piece of parchment to fit the bottom — this will help avoid sticking during the flip. Keep in mind that the material and shape of the vessel will impact the bake time. Glass can take longer to heat up, which could add time to your bake and an extra-deep vessel will also add to bake times.

You may be wondering, is one vessel better than the other? And the truth is, any vessel will make a delicious upside-down cake, but the cast-iron skillet has a few added benefits. With a cast-iron skillet, you can make the caramel right on the stove-top, then assemble the rest and transfer the whole thing to the oven, saving yourself a dish or two. Cast iron’s ability to retain even, steady heat will evenly bake the crumb and avoid burning the caramel. Plus, the handle makes for an easier flip.

The Flip

Flip the cake while it’s hot. Let the cake rest for about five minutes after removing it from the oven, then run a small paring knife around the edges. Place a large plate over the cake and swiftly invert it onto the plate. Then, bask in the beauty of your delicious creation! And remember: The secret to upside-down cake making is that there is no wrong way to do it. I encourage everyone, from rookies to veteran upside-downers, to experiment with combinations both classic and novel.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar