cherry-cornmeal-upside-down-cake Recipes

cherry cornmeal upside-down cake

This is the cake in which I did everything wrong.

1. It was impromptu, on a week that I have been trying to embrace salads, vegetables and water, or all those things I got too little of on Alex and Deb’s Central European Vacation. But I’m a sucker for any and all upside-down cakes, and this one sounded so good, my resolve was immediately weakened.

2. Cherries are not in season around here, not even close.

cherries

3. I said if I couldn’t find frozen cherries, I’d take it as a sign and skip it, but then Alex went to the store for me and he’s so good, so eager to get everything on the list that he bought fresh ones that cost so much money, I cannot discuss it in mixed company. But it was still really sweet of him.

4. I do not own a cherry pitter. Oh, I have looked at them, marveled at an extra-cute one at Williams-Sonoma last summer, but that time, like all of the times before it, I determined such a purchase fussy and of little use. Halving and pitting cherries took forever, a forever I would have happily swapped for a $10 limited-use gadget.

life without a cherry pitter

5. I do not own a cast-iron or oven-proof skillet that is 10 or 11 inches, though this, too, I have often discussed buying one but the thought of lugging it home always talks me out of it.

6. I had worked until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, swam a mile at the gym, got home after 9 p.m. and still determined that I would have time to bake this cake, cherry pitting included. I hate rushing through recipes; something always goes horribly wrong and I forget an egg or the sugar and swear I’ll never rush again. Yet this is exactly what I did.

cornmeal cake

7. It turned out I was out of brown sugar, save one rock of a chunk I was completely unable to soften. So what then? People, I grated it, that’s what I did.

8. I decided that since I didn’t have the right size oven-proof skillet and lacked a 10-inch cake pan that wasn’t an always-leaky springform, I would use this as my perfect excuse to finally use my Maryann cake pan. But here’s the thing with Ms. Mary, the fruit/frosting/curd/cream that you put on top? Yeah, it’s supposed to go on top of a baked, not unbaked cake. I realized this after I’d already dumped the cherries in, and decided to just run with it. I mean, once you’ve already grated brown sugar, I think it’s safe to say that you’re probably not going to get hung up on a cake pan that pushes all of the out-of-season cherries into an unattractive channel.

maryann cake pan

And guess what? Despite my every effort to ruin this cake, it is still killer good. The cake is light and fluffy; the cornmeal is minimal enough to be interesting, not aggravating; the cherries–even out-of-season ones in average shape–are amazing, their combination with brown sugar, balsamic and butter is a stroke of genius. I wouldn’t change a thing, not one single step. Well, ahem, except those eight above. Oh, and two more for good measure and a nice even number:

9. Intent on getting at least one pretty picture of an ugly cake, I flipped it out onto my Martha Stewart Collection 12-inch white cake stand, despite being fully aware a) that the cake would be very sticky, and b) that I wanted to be able to pack it up and bring it to Jocelyn’s the next day. Trying to remove the still-warm cake 45 minutes later, the ended up in eight pieces, at least two of them still stuck to the plate, soaking in the sink.

the ugly cake

10. As if I couldn’t have possibly done one more thing that evidenced my compromised logic that evening, I succumbed to a slice of it at 12:00 a.m. And do you know what happened? I was so hopped up on sugar, I couldn’t get to sleep until after 1 a.m. But it was totally worth it.

Well, actually: I woke up the next morning with a sore throat and stuffy nose, and ended up missing the barbecue, anyway! And now we’re swimming in quickly-depleting way-too-delicious Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake. Halp! [P.S. Still worth it.]

idiot-proof

One year ago: Spicy Bloody Marys, Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms, Buttermilk Chive Biscuits

Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
From Bon Appetit, June 2008

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 cups whole pitted fresh Bing cherries or other dark sweet cherries (about 21 ounces whole unpitted cherries)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground medium grind)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Combine 1/4 cup butter with brown sugar and vinegar in 10- to 11-inch ovenproof skillet with 2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add cherries and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter in large bowl. Add sugar; beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each, beating just until blended and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten slightly. Fold in remaining whites in 3 additions (batter will be thick). Spoon batter over cherries in skillet, then spread evenly with offset spatula to cover cherries.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in skillet on rack 5 minutes. Run spatula around edges of cake to loosen. Place large serving platter upside down atop skillet. Using pot holders or oven mitts, firmly hold platter and skillet together and invert. Leave skillet atop cake 5 minutes. Remove skillet. If necessary, rearrange any cherries that may have become dislodged. Let cake cool at least 45 minutes. Cut cake into wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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158 comments on cherry cornmeal upside-down cake

  1. This cake looks delicious. Perfect time for this too, I just bought a huge bag at a local market for $0.99 per lb. I too hate pitting cherries. I put them in my smoothie the other day and only need about 15 or so, but I didn’t use a knife, I spit out each pit, then spit the cherry into the blender. This may not be the preferred method for making an upside-down cake, but at least I didn’t dirty a knife or risk cutting my hands on those tiny tiny fruits. But seriously, by the 8th cherry I was about to give up, it was getting real annoying so I can only imagine your struggle!

    But if you were to go back would you buy the gadget now? I find that after the fact I tend not to care anymore, especially when it is so limited-use and just takes up space in the kitchen. In a year, you’ll open that drawer every few days and think, “Why the heck did I waste $10 on this?”

  2. I’m with you on the cherry pitter. You might only use it once or twice a year but it’s worth the money for the time you save. I would have given up about half way if I had to do those by hand.

  3. Jen

    Cherry pitters are worth it. You can use them for olives, too, if that helps you justify the purchase. You can also use a paperclip; unfold it, then stick the small loop into the cherry and use it to fish out the pit. Your cake looks wonderful!

  4. oma

    this baking-with-all-the-pieces-in-place sounds exactly like something i would do. mint extract will sub in for vanilla well enough, right? congrats on a delicious result.

  5. Cherries are my FAVORITE. My then-boyfriend-now-husband bought me a cherry pitter for my birthday ages ago. I love it and I use it. You can also pit olives with it, ya know. :)

  6. Mmmm… this looks good. I saw some cherries at the market yesterday and I have an unopened bag of polenta sitting on the counter! Don’t have the pitter or the skillet though…

  7. Nicole

    I’m confused about the brown sugar. You grated it? Please tell me you tried microwaving it for 30 seconds first and when that didn’t do the trick you were left with no choice but to grate it…

  8. well for something that everything went wrong, the photos sure do make the process look great!! (well, except for hand-pitting all those cherries, no photo could make that look fun!) glad to know the cake came out delish, this will be perfect to try in the summer!

  9. deb

    The good news is this cake still works if you do almost everything quote-unquote wrong. You can halve the cherries and get the pits out with a knife, and you can make the cherry topping in a saucepan and then scrape it into an 10- or 11-inch cake, if you don’t have the right sized skillet.

    Oma — Mint might work. I’ve never cooked with it, but I’d be careful not to let it overwhelm the cake. I think that almond extract would be nice with the cherries, too.

    Squashi — Haven’t tried it with the sour cherries, or canned ones, of course, but I love, love, love them and can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work as long as you increased the sugar if they’re not already sweetened, possibly skip it if they are.

  10. I think from what your blog said, the cake came out in 8 pieces with 2 pieces soaking in the sink…but your final photo looks like the cake is 1 solid creation? Am I missing sumthin? Does look yummy … and for b-day hints or any housewarming or whatever hints, why not hint for a cherry pitter?!!!! You should really have that and all the other cool gadgets that a person who loves to bake and cook should have!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m running out later to buy an egg poacher gizmo. I NEED IT TO LIVE AT THIS POINT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I’m a sucker for (a) desserts made with cherries, (b) desserts made with cornmeal and (c) gooey, sticky upside-down desserts. Hence, I too cut out this recipe from the most recent Bon Appetit :). Good to know it’s a winner, no matter what happens in the process!

  12. p.s. Did you see the photo that accompanied the recipe in Bon Appetit?? It looks like even the professionals at BA had trouble getting the cake off the plate :).

  13. I’m so making that cake this weekend! I’ve got a bag of cherries in the freezer that’s been begging to be used for a while. ps That Williams-Sonoma cherry pitter? Totally worth the $10 and drawer space.

  14. I sold the whole mid-week BBQ by promising that Debbie made cake. Even an overdue pregnant lady showed. We still had great food, but we all missed you and your busted up cherry cake. Sigh.
    I still don’t understand why Alex couldn’t of brought it over!! Alex??? Where were you? We want cake! We want cake! We want cake! We want cake!

    aha ah aha haahah

  15. Hairpins – oldfashioned hairpins – make wonderful cherry pitters. Better than a paperclip, because they’re thinner and a little more flexible.

  16. A

    This looks amazing. I love it when despite everything going wrong in the kitchen, things still come out tasting right. Alas, it doesn’t always work out quite so well for me, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the guts to do this baking wise, so kudos to you!

    Now I really want cherries to be in season. Right. Now.

  17. MB

    Hmm, with mounds of rhubarb growing in the garden right now, I’m wondering if I could add more sugar and sub rhubarb for the cherries? I have one of those cake pans and never knew the name of it.

    I may be showing my rural ignorance here, but could you order a cast iron skillet from Amazon or some such and have it delivered to your apartment? Avoiding the need to have to carry something like that all the way home. Or is that not done?

  18. deb

    I bet rhubarb would be delicious.

    As for the pan, which I am of course going to buy really really soon now that I’ve called myself out on it (…but its complicated; do I go for a cast-iron–we have a 12-inch, barely ever use it, do I start upgrading our non-sticks to non-non-sticks, as I’ve planned to for eons, piece by piece? I am paralyzed with indecision! Cake pans are much easier to commit to).

    Ironically, because we can’t get packages to our apartment–no doorman to sign for them–I order everything online to my office, which means–heh–that I would still have to carry it home!

  19. What a great post! I am always banging on about seasonality but sometimes it just is and it just happens and it’s great anyway. I like to take my time when cooking too but it looks like things were on your side as the cake is stunning and looks so juicy and moreish. I can feel myself coming down with the sniffles right now and I feel like a slice would ease my pain!

  20. Deanne

    I find that a paperclip is a great stand in for a real cherry pitter. It is messy but I think that’s half the fun. That being said, the halved cherries look beautiful in the cake.

  21. Rose Marie

    That cake looks and sounds delish. I don’t have a cherry pitter, but I do have a couple of cast iron skillets. If you think the 10″ is heavy try a “chicken cooker” that is almost 100 yrs old. LOL
    I have almost all of the ingredients in my kitchen. I think all I need is the cherries.

  22. I actually snorted with laughter when I reached “I grated it.” I love that you were willing to share some of your kitchen missteps. Strangely, a post I wrote about my own kitchen capers is one of the most popular emailed posts on my blog (I wonder what that says about me? should I be concerned?)

    At any rate, you read my mind. I have really been craving upside down cake. I was thinking pineapple but now you’ve got me thinking cheery. Glad it tastes great after all that effort.

  23. Go for the 10″ cast-iron — it is SO worth lugging it home. I bought mine for 3 bucks in a second-hand store in San Francisco (along with two 6″ ones and a cornstick pan), schlepped it back on the plane (actually the husband did the schlepping, tee hee), and have never looked back. It’s now seasoned to perfection, and is more non-stick than my so-called non-sticks, which all eventually lose their cancer-causing non-stickness, and need to be thrown out anyway.

    I try to avoid washing mine, unless it actually has food stuck to it, in which case we just use hot water and a scrub brush, no soap. Otherwise, I simply wipe it clean, and put it away. I know some people respond in horror to that idea, but it’s really the way to keep it seasoned. And we haven’t died from whatever maladies the unwashed pan could conceivably transmit — at least not yet…

  24. jb

    Listen to MB: Not only can you order cast iron from Amazon, you can get free Super Saver shipping on it! I would have thought they’d have a no-cast-iron policy somewhere in the free shipping deal, but nope. Your mail carrier may hate you for it, but give her a slice of that cake and all will be forgiven.

  25. Allison

    I love your blog. Somehow, this post just sealed my appreciation all the more. I want to make this cake…anyone, do you think it would also work spectacularly with oat, whole wheat, spelt, or brown rice flour? Thanks!!

  26. I firmly believe, after multiple uses and no slippery fingers, that a cherry/olive pitter is a good tool to have around the kitchen. Unpitted kalamata olives are way cheaper, and heck if you’re going to pit some you might as well save yourself some time and pit them ALL. For ease- the pointy end is where the pitter should go; a quick snap and the pit flies out easily, and gleefully through the stem end. If you’re like me at all, you may try all sorts of funny tricks with it to make it more interesting. Or not.

    And when there is someone, anyone around your kitchen that has issues with trying to force a cherry pit out in their mouth, just hand them the pitter and smile kindly. They will love you forever.

  27. Ohiogirl

    You swam a MILE?!!!!

    After work?

    I can’t believe no one else has commented on this.

    Good Lord Deb, you are turbocharged.

    Thank goodness for us. Else we would not have had this cake!

  28. This looks delish, I am loving Bon Appétit these days. Can’t wait for my subscription to begin – I’m afraid to buy the new issue because I don’t want to end up with two! Of course, there are worse situations I can think of… ;)

    p.s.
    What brand of stone-ground cornmeal do you use?

  29. Gretchen S.

    Ditto on the unbent paperclip: it sounds icky but works. Messy, but worth it in terms of time and sheer pleasure.

  30. If this is the cake in which you did everything wrong, then I must be missing something – it’s PERFECT to me!! And hey, I love fresh cherries (they’re in season here now, and I can’t get enough of them!)

  31. prklypr

    This confirms it. I love your blog. Your kitchen capers are hilarious, the same ones we all have and won’t admit. Who hasn’t felt compelled to make a recipe even though everything goes wrong?? The worse it gets, the worse you want to make the damn thing. Happened to me once with a ricotta cheesecake (rancid ricotta, half the necessary sugar, accidentally spilled last few drops of vanilla, etc) and it’s now my favorite recipe! Keep on telling it like it is, Deb :)

  32. I saw this recipe in the mag and thought it sounded great! I also love upside down cakes, but I really love cornmeal cakes. I’ll keep this one on hand in case I find some good cherries.

  33. Talk about a comedy of errors……..I LOVE it! You and I should hook up sometime and make………anything together. When I am distracted………my dog wants to go in or out for the “third” time……..the phone rings, and it’s my “mother”………or UPS finally shows up with the “next day” delivery “three days late!!!”……..I totally lose my concentration and wind up doing a lot of the same things. AND despite multiple miss-haps, last minute substitutions or that “killer” instinct to finish the %$^($% thing, it usually comes out surprisingly well. Stopping by your site is always invigorating and very amusing.

  34. I love your story! Luckily, these frustrated baking episodes don’t come too often. Your cake looks delicious to me. I have been obsessing about cornmeal lately, so I’m so happy to see this.

    I think cherries might be good in about a week. Or at least I hope so!

  35. Cherries! My all-time favorite! The cake looks divine! I had to laugh with you when you were describing all of the things you were lacking but bent on getting it made anyway, I’ve had my share of mad scientist moments. When I lived in Utah you could buy these wonderful, huge, deep maroon cherries that you’d eat warm right from the stand and then of course, you’d get runs…. I can’t wait for cherries to make this cake! Yummers!

  36. Natalie

    When I spent summers on my aunt’s farm, helping her preserved, we used hairpins to pit mountains of cherries. You just dig the looped end into the cherry, and pop the pit out. It eventually turns your hands a hideous color, but it’s very easy and fast to do.

  37. these pictures made me so hungry!!
    last night i rushed home and made this cake!!
    thankfully i had all the ingredients other than the cherries, which i picked up on the way and whole milk … which i substituted with skim milk.
    i also had a pan-problem. but even after most of the cherries juices ran out of the springform pan i used – it turned out WONDERFUL!!!
    thank you so much for sharing this recipe!!!

  38. Kim

    I have so been thinking of a cherry cake but couldn’t bring myself to splurge after breaking the budget on blueberries and rhubarb. Should have been as smart as you and sent out the husband, always comes home with whats on the list. Marvelous photos!

  39. This looks awesome! I’ll definitely try it out soon. I love it when there are all sorts of problems when cooking something (this has happened to me countless times, some of which I don’t want to think about!) & then in the end things turn out fine. More than fine, in this case, if I judge from the pictures.

  40. deb. it’s on the list…
    and i have a williams sonoma cherry pitter!
    and the right pan!

    i am so awesome
    but not as awesome as you
    yet (i’m working on it)

    ps – i need the black and white cookie recipe
    i mean it. i may have to resort to holding my breath…
    pretty please?

  41. Linda

    I couldn’t find fresh cherries. Took out the jarred cherries in a sugar water from Trader Joe’s. They worked out too. This cake is great. Thanks.

  42. Sooz

    I darted over to Epicurious and found that cake recipe with the picture. For all your jury-rigging..your cake actually looks better than the Bon Appetite picture. I probably wouldn’t have been as intent on making this if I hadn’t seen your photo!
    I just thought you’d like to know that! BTW…what is a Maryanne Pan?

  43. CF

    I was drawn in by the amazing photos and your fierce account of culinary improvisation. I have had the pleasure of feasting on your cake and while mine was not quite as beautiful as yours (I also made mine in a tart pan), it tasted amazing! When I make it again, I will fit the tart pan with a foil collar so that the batter does not spill over the edges.
    I did however find a useful tool for pitting cherries! I rummaged through my kitchen drawers to see what I could find to make the job a little easier. If you have a meat thermometer, I found that the little case that fits over the outside works perfectly. It made quick work of a tedious task.
    Thanks for all of the inspiration and for getting me into the kitchen tonight!

  44. I love cherries and believe that’s for a reason since I’m born in the first month of our cherry season :)) an let me tell you that the cherries you used are the exact type of cherries that open the season.
    I love that you used cornmeal: works best for colour and taste.
    Also I have an award waiting for you on my blog so come and get it ;)

  45. Francesca

    This cake looks awesome! I can’t wait to try it. I just stumbled upon your blog about an hour and a half ago and have been browsing all your recipes ever since–I think I’ve found a new favorite blog! Keep up the good work :D

  46. Kat

    I also broke down and purchased some out-of-season cherries (for mother’s day), and gasped out loud then the cashier rang them through. It’s making me rethink the whole notion of planting a cherry tree, let me tell you.

  47. Ann

    WOW, if I didn’t like you so much, now I’d REALLY have to not like you. Because, even when you TRY to mess up a cake, still, perfection. And still, you come off totally likable. I think you’re the Martha that I wish Martha really was. This “mess up” cake is totally beautiful. :) By the way, my dog is sitting here looking at it with me, and he totally agrees – it’s his new favorite SK creation, next to the chocolate cut-out cookies. :)

  48. Wow, this is truly beautiful. I am happy I happened upon this one. My kitchen is being DEMOLISHED on Wednesday, but if you squeezed this one in after the day you had, I should be able to get it done, right? Thanks for sharing, it’s gorgeous.

  49. sarah

    no cherries available in Australia at the moment but used frozen raspberries & redcurrants instead….absolutely DELICIOUS! love the balsamic tang!

  50. Sooz

    I made this cake at 5:00am this morning. We’ve had temps of over 100 the last few days, so I needed to get this done early. Like you, I should have just waited, but I was determined to do this today. Once I turned the cake out of the pan..all I could smell was vinegar. Shit! Long story short..I used 2 Tbsp vinegar, instead of the 2 tsp’s. Thinking I’d ruined it anyway, I cut into it after 1/2 hour cooling, and to my delight, it was wonderful in spite of me. I won’t do the vinegar thing againl, but I would even serve this one to company, it’s still that good. The cake is out of this world. It’s light and fluffy but with a hint of grit from the cornmeal. The flavor it lends to the cake is outstanding, especially with cherries. I will definately make this again..the RIGHT way next time!

  51. cybercita

    the owner of a fruit stand up in hudson suggested that the best cherry pitter of all is a paper clip. apparently what you do is flip out the middle part so that it makes a little hook, and use that to pierce the cherry and scoop out the pit. i’ve never tried it, since i have a couple of cherry pitters. i can’t live without making sour cherry pie at least once a year when the sour cherries come in at the union square market.

    this cake looks great! i just bought a pink cake stand at williams sonoma. the cherries should look especially cute on pink.

  52. Jes

    That looks AMAZING. And I’m totally grabbing the recipe, running, and veganizing it. Yum! Maybe with a berry that’s in season though… I love that you were able to pull it off so late at night after a crazy hectic day. That’s the sign of a good baker. :)

  53. GOSH! I feel like I’m on cloud 9 after seeing this post! This looks so delicious! I am immediately making a grocery list for tomorrow morning and I WILL make this while the kids are in school tomorrow! I would LOVE to include this on my website, with your permission of course!! This is such a wonderful post and I LOVE this blog!!

  54. I have grated brown sugar myself! We must be kindred spirits. Or just equally desperte for cake.

    I’ve been walking through the day obsessed with the ide of a cornmeal and raspberry cake, and then come across this. Since no cherries are to be had around here, either, I’m going to try it with frozen raspberries…

  55. You are a truly wonderful baker, that’s why you would never ruin any cake. ;)
    This looks wonderful, Deb!
    I have a similar recipe at home I’ve been meaning to try, but with apples instead of cherries.

  56. oma

    deb, you’re too kind! you answered my “mint extract can sub for vanilla, right?” question, even though the thought of mint and cherries together was probably gag-inducing. i actually wasn’t asking it in reference to this recipe, but using it as an example of the random thoughts that have gone through my head when i’m determined to bake despite having all necessary ingredients. just wanted to clarify that i wouldn’t seriously consider, for this recipe, using mint extract. ugh. :)

  57. Lisa T

    I can’t wait to try this cake! I love upside-down cakes, and cherries are my favorite.

    You have to get a cast-iron pan. Once you get it seasoned well, it makes the absolute best upside-down cakes. Anything you want caramelized fruit on top of — cast iron is the best. Before you get that slick seasoning perfected on the pan, the cake may stick to it a few times. Just use hot water and kosher salt to scrub it out. Don’t use soap, and store it so that air can circulate all around it. Keep it oiled, too. Trust me, you’ll use it every day.

  58. Lisa T

    By the way, not only do I have a couple of 8-inch cast-iron pans and a 10-inch cast-iron pan — a couple of years ago I bought a 14-inch cast-iron pan. After making countless batches of biscuits and cornbread, it’s got a sheen to it that you can almost see yourself in. It makes an upside-down cake that uses twice as many pineapple rings to cover it! It’s heavier than you can even imagine, but it’s SO worth it.

  59. Job

    Dear deb! There’s something wrong with this cake! Someone up there doesn’t want us to make it! Bought really nice french cherries on the farmers market yesterday and started the pitting. Believe it or not, i completely ruined a cashmere sweater. Later i did something wrong whisking the eggwhites, saw them flying through the kitchen. Also i paid to little attention to your instructions so i put all the butter in with the cherries. But hey, the cake turned out delicious…i served it yesterday for a couple of friends and they were amazed (especially after telling the story!)

  60. Yum…I love anything with cherries though I generally eat them all before I can get around to cooking with them. For this cake I’ll try and restrain myself. I agree with Lisa T about the cast iron skillet. Nothing better for an upside down cake.

  61. Bee Hind

    Put a plain, round pastry tip over your finger like a thimble to pit cherries. Works like a charm, and you don’t need to buy yet another kitchen gadget that will take up room in a drawer.

  62. So yummy! i just recently found your site and since I had just purchased a big bag of cherries, this recipe called out to me.

    I only used maybe 2 cups, since I too was pitting them by hand – and, to add to the “things done wrong”, my hand mixer broke and I had to do everything with a wooden spoon and a whisk.

    Still came out delicious! Thanks for this!

  63. Angela

    I finally made this today (thanks so much for admitting that the cherries don’t have to be great; it’s tiresome to read recipes exhorting one to buy the freshest, shiniest, sweetest whatever especially here in Southwestern VA). My “thing done wrong” was: I couldn’t find our skillet so substituted my MIL’s hand-me-down bundt pan (thus using it for the first time since we were married in 1993). It still came out great!

  64. Janet

    I mentally filed this one away until cherries were available and affordable. Made the cake tonight – yummy – but the bings I used were so big and dark, the cake looks like a prune upside down cake!!

  65. I made this over the weekend.

    I, too, used a maryann cake pan but drained the sauce and set about half the cherries into the outer ring only. I thickened up the sauce using a little cornstarch and filled the center of the cake with the sauce and the rest of the cherries after the cake had cooled. It turned out really well, I think. At least that’s what the friends who gobbled it up in less than five minutes said: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24081294@N02/2601052273/

  66. Sally

    This cake is clearly jinxed and yet destined for perfection. I was making the thing for a potluck and so I decided to make an extra for me to pre-try just in case it was gross or I couldn’t resist or something. I had the cherries prepped and neatly spread into two pans and then during the egg white folding stage I somehow hit one of the pans sloshing buttery sticky staining cherry sauce all over the floor. After 15 minutes of cleaning and praying that my rental floor was not permanently stained I got around to the cake. Well I put about half of the batter in the remaining pan since I had made a double recipe and it really didn’t cover the cherries so I started to spread it around and it started turning red which I didn’t want. I figured hey, I’ve got extra batter why waste it, so I poured in the rest and spread it around. It was still only about 1/3 way up the springform so I figured good. Man does this thing rise, it topped out the pan luckily not overflowing, but the leaking cherry juice was charring on the cake pan by the time it was done—still the little bit stuck to the pan tasted fantastic. In the end I got an extra tall version, less likely to crack apart and very elegant looking under the cake dome. Nice. Jinxed and yet destined for perfection. Note, all 7 reviewers at epicurious gave it 4 forks and 100% said they would make it again. Not even the ever finicky constantly substituting epicurious people can screw it up.

  67. Lindsay

    I made it last night at 9 pm. No skillet, no maryann pan — just a big foil pie pan. I had fresh cherries, pitted with a knife. I must say mine did not turn out so great. My pie pan was too shallow (I know, I know, you’re saying it’s not an upside down pie, it’s a cake, so why use a pie pan — but I did it anyway, so there). So the batter overflowed and I lost a lot of it. This meant the cherries, which are SUPER sweet sort of overpower the cake (which is also super sweet). I just tasted the edges because I am supposed to take this to someone’s house tonight – a good enough friend that if it fails, I won’t lose face. Anyway, what I tasted is like eating caramel. So I think I’ll put some unsweetened whip cream on it or maybe some almonds just to try to kill some of the sweetness. Sigh. . .

  68. Petra

    Woohoo! This cake is delicious. I have a cast iron skillet that I hadn’t used yet, so broke it in with this recipe. I was already in the thick of things when I realized that my flour bin contained a mix of half white, half whole wheat flour. Oh well, maybe it would be a leaden cake, but it’s all I had so in it went. Upon sampling the cake, I couldn’t even tell there was any whole wheat flour in it at all. It is so light and fluffy and really really delicious. This is a very sweet cake, though, so next time I might scale back on the sugar. Or try to use less sweet cherries. But still, as you said, killer good!

  69. Jennifer

    Deb–I love your site and your wit! I ran across this searching for recipes with cornmeal in them (since I have so much of it for some reason), and can’t wait to try this cake (reputation aside). Next time you need brown sugar–try making your own. I did this for the first time recently and it turned out great. Just 1-2 tbsp. of molasses for one cup of granulated sugar. You may need more for dark brown sugar. I may never buy pre-made brown sugar again…but will definitely consider a cherry pitter.

  70. Sam

    Just found your site via this recipe – which I made last night for a party. I was almost out of vanilla so I added some almond extract which worked nicely with the cherries. Also, I made a topping with greek yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice and a bit of sugar. It was a nice addition. I just had the last small slice for breakfast. yum. I look forward to exploring the rest of your site! cheers.

  71. I just made this cause husband claim that he had never had an “upsidedown cake”. “honey? you always turn your cakes upside down when frosting, what’s the difference?” guah…

    It was good, i used some wwpastry flour and a cake pan. I had to reduce some of the cherry juice tough… yum… had it for breakfast… it gets a bit dry the day after- i’ll put some topping on it tonite.

  72. Teresa

    So in the narrative you say you’re going to give up if you can’t find frozen cherries, but then Alex brought home fresh ones. How would you change this recipe if you ARE using frozen cherries?

  73. As ordered by a new-mommy friend with a sweet tooth, I substituted dried halved apricots for the cherries in this recipe (though I don’t like tweaking recipes before trying the original). I also added three little grates of lemon zest to the batter. It’s really nice and I’d make it again, but I can’t wait to make it with the cherries. The cake itself is wonderful – nice and fluffy, and I love that little bit of cornmeal texture. (My cast iron pan is only 8 inches, so I had to make a wee ramekin cake for myself. Pity, huh?)

  74. Nancy

    Delicious. I used a heavy, well seasoned cast aluminum 11 skillet. Came out great, but was fully cooked in under 35 minutes. ( My oven is pretty accurate)

    I would watch bake time if using cast iron or skillet vs. cake pan. It would be a complete shame to burn such a yummy cake :)

  75. gmgano

    When I read this post, I was laughing so hard that I had to read it aloud to my husband, who was watching the NBA playoffs and was probably too distracted to really appreciate just how funny it was that you GRATED your brown sugar! I would have simply put it into three plastic bags and pounded on it with a meat tenderizer. (In fact, I HAVE done that before.)

    Just made this cake (well, 1/2 of this cake) with sour cherries– delicious! And SOOO easy to pit with the fingers! I used an 8″ stainless skillet and it cooked up just fine. Perfect, really.

  76. So, yesterday I had a Smitten Kitchen baking bonanza. My parents are visiting for the weekend, and I flash-froze your sweet cream biscuits and blue cheese scallion biscuits for breakfasts. And I made this delicious, wonderful cake. I served it with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream, and it was easily one of the best desserts I’ve ever made. So good, in fact, both my husband and my dad had seconds!

  77. Nadia

    I’d had my eye on this cake for months and am really glad I finally made it today. I used much darker cherries (in season), which covered the whole cake, making it look more like the photo in the epicurious link than it does here. I also didn’t use my fluted pie tin but just an ordinary 23cm cake tin. So my cake looks dark and sultry but not as amazing as the photos here. I was surprised at the comment by Sooz (#75) about the vinegar. I used the correct 2tsp, but wouldn’t have minded a bit more sourness actually. I used a bit less butter and white sugar than actually prescribed but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. A lovely cake!!

  78. teacherbaker

    Quick question! I read this recipe to my mom over the phone as I often do when I get super excited about your recipes. She wondered whether it was ok to make this cake in my aluminum 10 inch cake tin since there is balsamic vinegar and cream of tartar. What do you think?

    1. deb

      Hard for me to say. I know aluminum is reactive so I’ve never baked in it… if you have another pan, I’d use it. Or, if you try it in the aluminum, let us know how it goes. I am sure someone will be in the same conundrum at some point.

  79. Peri

    I had a sort of mini disaster with this too, losing a ton of liquid from the cherry mixture (I accidentally spilled it). However, it still turned out and was delicious! Everyone looooved it!

  80. Ellie

    I just made this cake (in fact, pulled it out of the oven just after 12:00 a.m.!), and after just one slice think I’m sold. During the baking process, I discovered that my springform pan is rather leaky, too, but I’ll remedy that next time.

    A suggestion for anyone who wants to make this a bit easier: Going on an America’s Test Kitchen commentary on a similar cake, I did not bother to beat the egg whites and fold them into the batter. I simply mixed the eggs in whole. The cake was still light, almost airy — not at all dense. Good enough for me and a big time-saver!

  81. Just made this gem of a cake and, as usual, am impressed. I used a 10″ springform and frozen cherries from a big farmstand score last summer, and it is gorgeous. My 15 month old ate a piece in less than 3 minutes, and my husband says the cake itself tastes like “fluffy, sweet cornbread.” Beautiful.

  82. Corneygirl

    I just made this – with the only changes being I made cupcakes and used frozen cherries. The man just said it was my best dessert yet! I love the site, and visit often. Thanks for such a great recipe and resource.

  83. Rachel

    Made this for some guests last night, Deb it is I.N.S.A.N.E.L.Y good. (It was also my breakfast this morning. Huge surprise.) I had four full cups of bing cherries by the time i finished pitting them, and I just said screw it, dumped them all in the cast iron 10-inch – but same amount of butter/brown sugar/vinegar as you call out. The best decision to have made in the end, the more equal proportion of cherries-to-cake suited me verrrrry well. All the ingredients only *just* fit with my extra cherry decision in place, so I put another pan on the rack below in the oven to catch the oops-drips that were inevitable. More cherries will be procured this coming week, says I, and more cake will result. And larger pants my follow soon thereafter…

  84. Kelley

    I made this today for a family dinner and served it with vanilla ice cream. Sunday dinners have returned with the birth of my niece, and a home-cooked meal is the best way to close out a week.

    I don’t have a cast iron skilled so I used my 10-inch All-Clad skillet and it worked like a charm. I used more cherries and vinegar and light brown sugar instead of dark. I also didn’t feel like dirtying two mixing bowls because my dishwasher is too small for two 5-qt KitchenAid bowls, meaning I’d have to wash one by hand. Not happening, so I whipped the egg whites first to soft peaks and added 1/4 cup white sugar before whipping them to stiff peaks. I then transferred the foam to a small bowl. Then I made the batter in the same bowl with only 1/2 cup white sugar. It was plenty sweet, and perfect for a sweltering summer evening.

  85. Greta

    Also lacking a 10 or 11 inch ovenproof skillet, I think I’m going to try this recipe using my 9″ springform pan that doesn’t leak on me (water baths are a totally different story, though.) It’ll be fine, but I’m guessing I’ll have to up the baking time a little, right? This recipe looks amazing. You continue to inspire me in the kitchen, Deb. Thank you so much for all that you do :)

  86. AMN

    Made this last night with tart cherries that we were given and I couldn’t let go bad…. Awesome. Had two very large pieces and thought about a third. I agree with comments above about rhubarb. First thing I thought of as I put it away… next time, rhubarb, and then I won’t have to pit all those cherries :) I was also worried that it wouldn’t be enough cornmeal – but the flavor is still there and leaves it so light – love it… I used the springform pan with a baking sheet underneath and saved all the wonderful juice that leaked out….

  87. denise

    Probably made this cake a total of 5x over the summer (… tried it in different pans – fav was a deep pie pan. after flipping cherries piled high like a crown. varied the amount of cherries – more is definitely more – and made one using ‘birch’ sugar instead of white. sadly, prefer white sugar. oh well.) might possibly be my new favorite summery desert. Cherries stay firm. Cornmeal adds great texture. Cake is light & fluffy. And the presentation is always stunning. + it’s simple! Never got around to clafoutis at all .. maybe next summer.

  88. “7. It turned out I was out of brown sugar, save one rock of a chunk I was completely unable to soften. So what then? People, I grated it, that’s what I did.”

    Deb- I love you.
    You remind me so much of myself that it almost hurts.

  89. I made this cake the night before a first my-parents-meet-his-parents dinner. I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet, the only thing I had between an 8-inch round cake pan and 9×12 pyrex. Turns out, this pan was way too big; I overcooked the cherries in the beginning, so the sugar burned a little bit in the oven; then, to top it off, I read the instructions about taking it out of the pan wrong, and left it in to cool for 30 minutes, so it didn’t really come out so pretty in the end.

    Bottom line: It still made a delicious breakfast cake topped with plain yogurt the next morning. And, we still had time to make another dessert.

    Here’s the evidence: http://www.flickr.com/photos/psrobin/6802182382/in/photostream

  90. I’m so glad I found your site – it is a treasure trove of mouth-watering recipes! This was delicious! (I did have to make some changes because we were out of milk – we had yogurt + water instead – and low on white sugar (mix of sugar and brown sugar instead… and I used a bit more balsamic because I like it a tiny bit more tart and complex) but this got rave reviews – people went back for seconds and thirds it wasn’t hard to make either :) It came out like a dream (I did it while it was still quite warm)

    Delicious! Thank you so much!

  91. Aislinn

    Browsing through some of your summer recipes for an upcoming weekend party and came across this. Sounds super-delicious, especially because it reminds me of one of my favorite cakes, Upside-Down Berry Cornmeal Cake from Better Homes & Gardens. I love that cake because you can use any combination of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries (or just one type) and because it uses fresh basil in the batter–SO scrumptious!

  92. cristina

    Is cream of tartar essential? ….any substitutions? I have all the other ingredients but not cream of tartar. I’ve never cooked with it before.

  93. EG

    Made this today (picked 8 lbs of cherries yesterday) – Delicious! I also don’t have a cast iron skillet (for shame! I’m south of the Mason-Dixon, too!) so I used my springform pan. Which I learned leaks. But it’s still delicious! The cornmeal really adds a wonderful heartiness.

  94. I made this cornmeal cake today (and shared it on Pinterest) with a mixture of apricots and organic raspberry jam. YUM!! Next time, I’ll use just a pinch of brown sugar instead of the recommended amount – it’s very sweet! I was also able to substitute 1/2 light soy milk & 1/2 lowfat yogurt for the milk (all out).

    You were right about this being a recipe that stands up to any modification. I LOVE THIS! :)

  95. CarolJ

    The image of this cake had stayed in my mind’s eye ever since it was first posted, and I finally got around to making it today. I halved the recipe and baked the cake in a 7″ round pan, which worked beautifully. Because my cherries seemed unusually large, I cut them in two after pitting them; also, I reduced the sugar a bit and used a drop of almond extract along with the vanilla. Served with very vanilla-y whipped cream, it was a delicious summer treat.

  96. PG

    I don’t think 3 cups of cherries are enough to cover the bottom of an 11″ cast iron skillet. As some epicurious commenters noted, depending on the kind of cherries you use, 21 oz are more like 5 cups. If there isn’t a fairly solid base of cherries in the pan, the batter pours through to the bottom and tends to stick, and tears off when you flip onto the platter. But while this wasn’t the prettiest cake, it was still very tasty! I’ll definitely make it the next time I have enough cherries.

  97. SaraQ

    How long do you think it will last? I made it tonight (Thursday) for a party on Sunday. Should I freeze it? Keep it refrigerated? Thanks!

    1. deb

      SaraQ — It’s probably fine at room temperature if your kitchen is not too hot. Otherwise, the fridge. In general, I like to freeze cakes if it’s going to be more than a day but this one is spectacularly moist and I wouldn’t want the cherries to lose their vigor if frozen then defrosted (defrosted fruit tends to slump ickily).

  98. Kara

    Just made this – my kitchen smells wonderful! I decided to make it in a 10-inch springform pan, but I lined it with parchment paper (also greased it) and it made for a super easy removal. Just took the side off th springform, then inverted onto a plate, and peeled off the parchment! Pretty proud of myself for thinking this up as inverting anything almost always turns out disastrous for me. Can’t wait to fig in tomorrow evening with friends!

  99. Hi Deb,

    I’ve been trying out various recipes for sweet cornmeal-using cakes, and I can’t stand the grit! I tried to soak the cornmeal overnight in milk before using in one of the recipes and while it baked up delicious, there was still that dreaded grittiness. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks!

    1. deb

      I don’t find the grit terribly noticeable in this, but I agree with you that I don’t always like it. It’s more about the texture of cakes for me personally. Very moist, buttery ones with a bit of flour too seem to hide any unpleasant grittiness. You might also look for a finer cornmeal at the store, maybe a polenta?

  100. Eliza

    I tried this with (frozen) sour cherries and changed nothing else — there’s no need for more sugar. Perfect! Thanks.

  101. Alexa

    I made this today with strawberries (I arranged the strawberries in the bottom of the pan and then poured the sugar/vinegar/butter mixture over top instead of boiling the berries, as I didn’t want them to get too mushy) and used a 9 inch, square cake pan and it turned out wonderfully! The cake is so moist! Next time I’m thinking of trying a rosemary syrup instead of balsamic for the strawberries

  102. Catherine

    I made this cake tonight, using fresh yellow-fleshed peach slices, with a caramel/topping recipe from the restaurant at which I work (about 3 c. white sugar + 1/2 c. water + 1/2 c cream), with a good pour of bourbon and dash of vanilla added. There was a bit too much caramel, nevertheless the peach bourbon upside down cake wad utterly divine. Thank you, Deb, for the cornmeal cake of my dreams.

  103. Michelle

    I found this recipe while I was sick with pneumonia, and the minute I started feeling better, I made one! I learned two things: I too have a leaky springform pan, and the 12-pound dog I’m pet-sitting can make it on top of the table (I suppose I learned three things: the pup likes cherry cake!). At least I got a good laugh out of it! Luckily I still have enough cherries to try again.

  104. Deb,

    I love your recipes, but was comparing your recipe to a BonAppetit cake recipe I found – turns out they are exactly the same. It says yours is adapted, but I don’t see the difference. I understand that recipes can be similar, but I believe that if you have adapted something, it should be at least somewhat different. A bit disappointing ;(

    I do plan on making it though, and will let you know how it goes.

    Holly

  105. Liz

    I made this cake yesterday for my dad-in-law’s birthday since we had gotten some lovely cherries from our friends’ tree the day before! I cooked it in a big cast-iron skillet, which worked very well.

    The cake was deeeeeelish, but for the amount of batter, next time I would do at least 50% more cherries&glaze. Also, for reference, I used Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal and there was no unpleasant grit – just yum.

    1. deb

      I haven’t, but am sure it could be good. You might also like the Blueberry Cornmeal Butter Cake I have in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

  106. NicM

    I made this tonight with fresh cherries in a cast iron pan and it was delicious. Apparently I used more than the recipe called for because you couldn’t see any cake through the cherries!

  107. josh

    Deb, this is my first time posting to your excellent blog (is this website a blog or a website?). Whatever… you are my default go-to site when I’m cooking.
    I confess that sometimes, I head here just to read your musings.

    I try to cut back on the butter and sugar when baking and still get good results.
    This recipe is terrific. Here’s what I did:
    Used 4 T. butter with the cherries. Fine.
    Used 4 T. butter in the batter. Fine.
    Didn’t whip the egg whites. (pure laziness). Fine.
    And next time I’ll use plain yogurt instead of milk.
    This is a fast and easy cake (other than the cherry pitting labor) and super tasty.

    Thanks..

  108. PattyK

    Hey Deb
    How much do you think I could increase the cornmeal and still call it cake, and of course be tasty. I love cornmeal. My cornbread has no flour in it, can you tell I’m southern?
    I’m thinking 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup cornmeal. Do you think any other changes would be necessary?
    Thanks so much

    1. deb

      PattyK — I’m not sure because I haven’t fiddled with the proportions here. It might be easier to start with a cake that’s 100% cornmeal (I don’t have a go-to).

    2. Patty, I just made the cake with 1 cup of cornmeal, 1/2 cup of almond meal and subbed out the milk for sour cream. Had that awesome cornbreadiness and was gluten free. You should try it out :)

  109. Tiernan

    I rushed through this recipe to get it in the oven before a friend arrived (adjusting to incorporate all the ‘tricks’ in your newer recipes – beat the egg whites first, etc.). My illusion things went flawlessly was shattered when the apartment began filling with smoke. Apparently I’d set the oven for 450, not 350, and some of the seeping filling (9″ pan) had missed the sheet pan I’d slid under it for smoke prevention.

    Yet, once again, the recipe proved impossible to mess up. I threw it on the stove on low until it passed the toothpick test. (Drilled a few holes in the top with a knife so the filling would bubble over within the cake rather than be wasted on the stovetop.)

    Foolproof recipes are the best.

  110. Teresa

    This is amazing. I made it with frozen cherries, which I did not defrost before throwing in the frying pan with the sugar/butter/vinegar. I panicked a bit when they defrosted and released (what I swear was) oceans of cherry juice, so I boiled them for about ten minutes. That didn’t reduce the liquid much, and when I plopped the batter on top it was islands of cornmeal dough in a cherry sea. I did the best I could to drag the islands across the sea to the edges of the pan, threw it in the oven, and crossed my fingers. It turns out, this recipe can handle that. The cake rose beautifully, no juice spilled out, and I could even invert it onto a plate afterwards with zero cherry fatalities and no juice dribbling down the sides. Also: YUM!!

  111. I tried this today.. but gluten free! I made three easy substitutions and my parents (who are not GF) & I loved it. Instead of the flour and cornmeal: 1 cup of cornmeal and 1/2 cup almond meal. Instead of the milk: 1/2 cup sour cream. It took a bit longer to cook to get the toothpick to come out clean (10-12min longer) and was a little soft in the center, but plates were almost licked clean. :)

  112. CarolJ

    Quite a coincidence – along with Vanessa L (above), I also made a gluten-free version today. For the all-purpose flour, I subbed in a gluten-free flour blend and added 3/8 tsp. xanthan gum. This was for a half-recipe, which I made in a 7″ round pan, baking it for 35 minutes. It turned out perfectly, delicious served with clouds of whipped cream (I’m in Wisconsin). The cake recipe is a winner, and I look forward to making it with other fruits, too. It’s a bonus that the recipe (halved) is ideal for the 7″ pan and my small two-person household.

    1. Carol,
      I wondered if some xanthan might sturdy things up a bit. I really loved the cornmeal texture and was pleased with the ratio, but it was more pudding in the center and I liked the cakiness around the edges. Next time, I may try a dash o’ xanth :)

  113. LH

    Looks yummy! Substitutions: vanilla flavored almond milk for the milk/vanilla/almond extract. Had to use a smidge of whole wheat flour b/c was running low. I did the egg whites first in mixer then poured off and reused the bowl. I divided into two pans but did contemplate muffin sized version too.