If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I have a special place in my heart reserved for America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Last April, I was chosen as a finalist for their “Learn To Cook” series. Alas, I did not win, but I still love them and put my full trust in their tried-and-true recipes. What I love so much about their recipes is that they test out many different methods, using many different ingredients until they settle on the “perfect” way to do something.
This cake is no exception. Normally, when one thinks of an upside-down cake, images of juicy rounds of pineapple studded with shiny and saccharin-sweet maraschino cherries come to mind. But this one is different in so many wonderful ways.
Even though the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen went to all the trouble of figuring out the perfect recipe and method, I still can’t help but make a few subtle changes to suit my tastes. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything too drastic, I promise. Instead of adding basic melted butter to the batter, I browned the butter slightly to give the cake the nutty flavor only browned butter can provide. Also, I chose to use dark brown sugar rather than light, again, to add a deeper level of flavor. Beyond that, I didn’t change much else besides using sea salt and one extra teaspoon of vanilla extract.
This particular recipe calls for the use of a 9-inch nonstick round cake pan with sides at least 2 inches high. I would highly recommend using one (or buying one if you don’t have one). I only had an 8-inch and the batter barely fit, not to mention it took almost an extra 10 minutes to bake. Just do yourself a favor and buy a 9-inch pan. You’ll use it for more than this cake, I’ll bet.
There are parts of this recipe that are a little fussy, like having to cut half the apples in 1/2-inch slices and the rest in 1/4-inch slices, but I feel that the fussiness is worth it. And also, do not overlook the addition of 1 tablespoon of coarse-ground cornmeal (polenta). That small amount of cornmeal will add a lovely crunchy texture to the end result and you’ll be glad you did it. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!
Apple Brown Butter Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, plus extra for pan
4 Granny Smith apples (about 2 pounds), peeled and cored
2/3 cup packed (4 2/3 ounces) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarse ground cornmeal (polenta)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 ounces) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, browned and cooled slightly
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the apple topping:
Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch round, 2-inch deep nonstick cake pan; set aside. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350ºF.
Halve apples from pole to pole. Cut 2 apples into 1/4-inch-thick slices; set aside. Cut remaining 2 apples into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Heat butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add 1/2-inch-thick apple slices and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times, until apples begin to caramelize, 4 to 6 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.)
Add 1/4-inch-thick apple slices, brown sugar, and lemon juice; continue cooking, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and apples are coated, about 1 minute longer. Transfer apple mixture to prepared pan and lightly press into even layer. Set aside while preparing cake.
For the cake:
Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. Whisk granulated sugar, brown sugar, and eggs together in large bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Set aside while browning butter.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 6 tablespoons butter. Allow butter to melt, swirling pan constantly, until light brown bits form in the pan and butter smells nutty. Do not burn butter.
Add brown butter to sugar and egg mixture, along with the sour cream and vanilla; whisk until combined. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan with apples and spread evenly over fruit. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 34 to 40 minutes.
Cool pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Place wire rack over cake pan. Holding rack tightly, invert cake pan and wire rack together; lift off cake pan. Place wire rack over baking sheet or a sheet of wax paper to catch any drips. If any fruit sticks to bottom of pan, remove and position on top of cake. Let cake cool 20 minutes (or longer to cool completely), then transfer to serving platter or cake stand, slice, and serve.