Upside-Down Cakes Are the Perfect Cakes for People Who Hate Frosting
When I tell people that I don’t like cake, reactions range from dismay to pity to outright disgust. Saying those three words—I. Hate. Cake.—have brought such dark shadows of disappointment and confusion across people's faces that you’d think I'd told them that I have a third arm protruding from my abdomen that I use to triple-fist cheap beer on the weekends.
It’s my own fault, though; I’ve misspoken. It’s not that I hate cake. I hate frosting. Towering layer cakes wrapped in delicate buttercream and cupcakes piled high with piped sugar plaster are thrilling sights for plenty of people I cherish and respect, and that’s great. It takes all types, and I am a proud representative of the frosting-hating type.
There are three types of cake I actually enjoy (barring cheesecake, because as we all know that’s technically a pie): pound cake, coffee cake, and upside-down cake. It's because each of these is dressed with something better than frosting. Pound cake has that delightful crusty top. Coffee cake generally comes with some sort of toasty streusel situation, bonus points if it includes nuts. But the greatest of these frosting-free cakes is upside-down cake, which is dressed to impress with fresh, juicy fruit, enhanced with butter and sugar.
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Upside-down cakes provide an aesthetically pleasing, ridiculously easy, and downright delectable cake experience, all from a single pan. There’s no greasing and flouring and lining multiple cake pans with parchment paper. There’s no trimming of layers. Forget juggling and washing a million mixing bowls. You won’t even miss the process of stacking and icing in phases in order to create some illusion of dessert perfection.
Upside-down cake don’t play like that. You’re looking at melting a little butter in a single round or square cake pan (you can do this in your preheating oven) and then sprinkling a bit of sugar over that warm melted butter, arranging fresh fruit of your choosing over that, and finally spooning a dense, simple-to-mix-up cake batter on top of your fruit. The whole prep process takes about 20 minutes, 30 if you want to move at a leisurely pace.
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As the cake bakes, your fruit, butter, and sugar combine to create a jammy, caramelized sweet-tart layer that beats the pants off of any overly sweet frosting. Opt for whatever in-season produce you love most—pineapple is a classic, but peaches, berries, rhubarb, plums, and cherries are all welcome options. The cake itself is buttery, incredibly tender, and open to whatever flavoring additions you want to make to jazz things up.
For the strawberry upside-down cake I made just yesterday (recipe below), I incorporated almond flour (which I lightly toast before adding to the batter for more intense flavor) and cardamom for a little kick of character. There is but one rule when it comes to upside-down cakes: No frosting allowed.
Strawberry Upside-Down Cake
For the Topping
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 11/2 cups sliced strawberries
For the Cake
- ⅔ cup almond flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. ground cardamom
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- ¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt (I used vanilla, but plain works great)
- 1 ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Place the 2 tablespoons of butter in a 9-inch round cake pan and place pan in the oven as it preheats. Once butter is melted, remove pan from oven and carefully tilt the pan to allow melted butter to coat the bottom and sides of the pan; set aside. Spread the almond flour in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper; place in oven. Allow the flour to bake until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. Whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, salt, and cooled almond flour in a medium bowl.
4. Combine the ½ cup of softened butter, ½ cup of brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer until combined and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla; mix until combined, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture to the bowl; mix, while slowly adding the yogurt, until just combined. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula, making sure all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
5. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of brown sugar evenly over melted butter in the cake pan. Arrange the sliced strawberries in a single layer over the sugar. Carefully spoon the cake batter over the strawberries and spread into an even layer using a rubber spatula.
6. Bake cake at 350° for 32-35 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 10-12 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan and inverting the cake onto a cake plate. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.