Here's why upside-down cakes are the best, along with a foolproof upside-down cake formula. 

By Darcy Lenz
May 21, 2020
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Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland; Food Styling: Julia Levy

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 and I use it 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; I just happen to be 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 cakecoffee 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. 

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. 

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 peachesberriesrhubarbplums, 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. 

I have a go-to upside-down cake formula that I use with whatever fruit I have on hand, but my favorite application for it is this Miso-Glazed Pineapple-Upside Down Cake. I especially love making this cake for company because it looks gorgeous and it has a certain "wow" factor thanks to the miso. I also incorporate almond flour (which I lightly toast before adding to the batter for a more intense flavor) and cardamom for an added kick of character. 

Rishon Hanners

Of course, if you wanted to ditch the cardamom, you definitely could. And if you don't have almond flour, you could replace it with 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour. You can also swap the fresh pineapple called for with canned (one 15-ounce can of slices should do the trick). Or hey, you might even use a different fruit entirely—strawberries are great.

This is your cake, and there is but one rule when it comes to upside-down cakes: No frosting allowed.