Is it too soon in our relationship to say that I miss hanging out with you guys more? I hope not. The fact is that these days I am so deep in the throes of
oh my god what was I thinking a certain cookbook I’m supposed to be halfway (ha! hoo! hee! I wonder if Knopf will find this so hilarious) finished with that it’s taking time away from hanging out here. Which is a shame, as it is my favorite place outside a certain striped carpet covered with The Mop Who Came to Live With Us and his toys and a bar I haven’t found yet that makes perfect Manhattans.
And it’s not like I’m not cooking up a storm, either. Yesterday, I made what I hoped would be an unfathomably deep apple pie for the cookbook. Think piles of amazing baked appleness for people who can never have enough filling (this, by the way, is for people who can never have enough crust). Alas, it was a (delicious) mess and I am back to the drawing board where I summon the confidence to start peeling another six pounds of apples.
There’s also this upside-down cranberry-caramel cake, which I made from The Perfect Finish. Now, before I tell you everything that went wrong with it, I’d like to start off on a positive: we finished it. In an apartment with too much of everything caloric these days, the temptation of cake isn’t particuarly strong (if there could be an upside to all of this cooking). But over the course of a workweek, we finished it. Obviously, it was good.
But it was troublesome. It baked too quickly, I found the cake a little sturdy. It almost overflowed. I wanted more flavorings to contrast the cranberries and I wanted a few more cranberries, too. And the cake, it’s not very pretty. At first I blamed my photography but then I started insecurely Googling (what, doesn’t anyone else do this?) other images of cranberry upside-down cakes and well, apparently they largely look like this. I’m going to post the recipe below with a bunch of notes. Feel confident that if you make it by the book, with only minor adjustments for cooking time and oven protection, you will have a cake worth sharing and finishing. If you’d like to raise the bar on it, however, I’ve got some ideas.
One year ago: Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding
Two years ago: Cottage Cheese Pancakes and Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel
Three years ago: Roasted Stuffed Onions
Four years ago: Indian-Spiced Vegetable Fritters
If you don’t like molasses, I’d use honey or light corn syrup instead because although just a tablespoon, you can taste it (though we found it delicious against the tart berries). If you’re thinking, as I was, that there was no need for a parchment paper circle in the bottom (and later, top) of the pan, you can probably skip it. The “probably” is there because I didn’t get to retest this without it but see nothing to worry about; if a berry sticks, just scoop it and plop it on top of the cake. The cake itself is a little on the shortcake side — sturdier than your average plush layer cake but still quite moist. Still, if you want a more traditional upside-down cake base, I think this one is phenomenal (you might even swap the pineapple juice for white cranberry) as is this one.
Unsalted butter or cooking spray for the baking pan
2/3 cup (5 ounces or 142 grams) packed light brown sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces or 171 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces or 242 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces or 198 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (9 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (8 1/2 ounces or 242 grams) sour cream
2 cups (8 ounces or 230 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries (you could add a half-cup more, if you, too, can never have enough cranberries)
Optional flavorings: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, 1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon zest, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, few gratings of fresh nutmeg or a combination thereof
Whipped cream, optional
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter and cover the bottom with parchment paper (see Note above). In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of the melted butter, molasses and 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Stir well and pour into prepared cake pan. Set pan aside.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into a bowl or onto a sheet of waxed paper and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the whisk attachment (eh, I just used a handmixer with standard beaters) beat the eggs and sour cream together at medium speed until well blended. Add optional flavorings of your choice. Scrape down the bowl and add remaining melted butter (1/2 cup) and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth.
Add the cranberries to the prepared baking pan and gently press the fruit into an even layer. Dollop the batter on top and use an offset spatula to gently nudge it into place without disturbing the cranberries underneath. Bake on the center rack (with a tray underneath to catch drips… just in case; mine did not overflow but came stressfully close) until golden and a tester inserted into just the cake comes out clean, which took 30 to 35 minutes in my oven but is suggested to take 45. Please, please check yours on the early side. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan then insert over a flat platter that is (Learn From My Mistakes Alert!) larger than your cake pan, to catch any puddling or jumping cranberries. Remove the parchment paper.
Serve warm, with freshly whipped cream. However, this cake wasn’t half bad two to three days layer, kept covered at room temperature.