When I was growing up, for special occasions, my mother used to make pineapple upside down cake. Dearly loved by our family, this dessert featured succulent pieces of canned pineapple bathed in a brown-sugar glaze and accented with a bright red maraschino cherry. It was perfect with ice cream or whipped cream, although I loved just eating the crispy-caramelized edges.
Later, when my husband and I traveled to France, we enjoyed tart Tatin, a famous French upside-down apple tart, created by two sisters from the Loire Valley that made their living producing tarte des demoiselles Tatin, “the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin.” There have many variations and stories written about this recipe, which is considered one of France’s great contributions to the culinary world. Because I have never been able to successfully create the perfect combination of caramelized apples with a pastry crust, I was eager to try the recipe for Apple-Maple Upside Down Cake.
Forget the shiny copper pan in the Williams-Sonoma catalog; this cake is best made in a good, old-fashioned cast iron skillet. Instead of sugar, maple syrup cooks with the butter to produce the gooey caramel topping. For best results, use an apple that holds its shape when cooking, is bright with acidity, and has a slightly dry texture. Claude Monet grew a russet variety for his apple tarts, I chose Northern Spy. Granny Smith or Rhode Island Greening would work well also.
The apples are cooked until soft, and then covered with a cake batter made with grated fresh ginger root and maple syrup, and leavened with baking soda and yogurt. Depending upon the size of the pan, the cake takes about 40 – 50 minutes to bake. If it starts to brown too quickly, reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees until the center is cooked.
The result was a pretty, golden, crispy, caramel and apple gingerbread type cake. The apples were not too mushy and the edges were perfect for nibbling. Served with a dollop of yogurt, this cake is the perfect winter, special occasion dessert.
Apple-Maple Upside Down Cake
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup maple syrup, divided
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup yogurt (or substitute applesauce)
- 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 4 apples, peeled and cut off the core into thirds
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in an 8 or 9-inch cast iron skillet or ovenproof pan. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, grated fresh ginger, ½ cup maple syrup, sugar, and yogurt.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add the dry ingredients, whisking to blend.
- To prepare the apples, set a peeled apple on a cutting board, stem side up. Cut a large piece from one side, leaving the core. Rotate the apple and repeat twice for a total of 3 large slices from each apple.
- To the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet, add ¼ cup maple syrup. Add the apples, stir to coat. Cook the apples in the syrup, turning, until they soften, about 10 minutes.
- Space apples evenly in the pan, flat side down. Spoon batter over the top and smooth. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a plate.
- Serve with a dollop of yogurt or whipped cream. Makes 8 servings.