A Fourth of July backyard or front porch cookout is not complete without dessert, especially one that evokes a piece of Americana. Cherry pie is a classic Fourth potluck treat and so is an upside-down cake. One way to salute both of them is to make a cherry upside-down cake.
We are talking about a butter cake that is tender and topped with fresh plump cherries — not those preserved and sweetened maraschino ones from the jar.
Upside-down cakes are practically synonymous with pineapple, but they don’t have to be made with the canned fruit at this time of the year. Put tradition aside and instead consider cherries, which are omnipresent in markets now. Seasonal cherries can be bracingly sweet or tart with a few duds in between. The sweet ones are an elegant snack to be eaten out of hand. The sour ones, with softer skins, are high in organic acids known as phenols and better for baking as they can stand up to heat and can hang on to their flavor.
However, it’s important to note that even if the cherries hold their shape to heat in baked goods, they do release a lot of moisture so the cake could become soggy if it sits for a few hours. To avoid that, make sure that the cake batter is thicker when using fresh fruits than say dried ones, says Arbil Lopez, pastry chef at Cafe Eighteen in Squirrel Hill. Also, she advises to use less sugar in the batter as sugar, too, releases moisture.
To begin with, grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan well and layer it with a butter-brown sugar mixture that will hold the cherries in place when the sugar caramelizes and the cake cools. Arrange pitted cherries neatly in rows, with the pitted side facing down, over the mixture. Finally, scoop the thick cake batter in big dollops and drop them over the fruits. Then gently spread the batter with a spatula so as not to dislocate the cherries from their spot.
For a perfect flip, cool the cake after it’s taken out of the oven and run a spatula or thin butter knife between the cake and the pan. Patience is key, so don’t bang on the pan after it is inverted; the cake will break.
Carefully remove the pan and you will have a beautiful looking cherry-studded upside-down cake staring back at you. Against the backdrop of a star-spangled firework show, the cherry cake, too, will draw oohs and aahs.
Cherry Upside Down Cake
This recipe, entered by Mary Drabik of Shoreview, Minn., was a blue ribbon winner in the Minnesota State Fair in 2014. Drabik, who got the recipe from her mother, tweaked it by replacing vegetable shortening with butter. And I tweaked it further by increasing the flour from 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups to make a thicker cake batter for the fresh cherries.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 pounds (21/2 to 3 cups) fresh pitted or frozen pitted tart cherries, thawed and drained
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle. Line bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, add 6 tablespoons butter and brown sugar. Let butter melt over medium heat, stirring 1 to 2 minutes. Pour butter into prepared pan and spread it evenly.
Place pitted cherries in an even layer on top of butter and sugar mixture. Set pan aside.
For cake batter, place 3/4 cup butter and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamy, 3 minutes.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts, and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry mixture to batter alternately with milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed with electric beater until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes.
Fold a small amount of egg whites into batter. Then fold in rest of egg whites, lifting and folding as egg whites are incorporated.
Gently spread batter over cherries so not to disturb them.
Place cake in oven and bake until the top is golden and the center is cooked, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let it cool for 15 minutes.
Run a knife around the edges of the pan. Turn cake onto a serving plate and cut into servings. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
— Adapted from “American Cake” by Anne Byrn (September 2016; Rodale Books)