Sep 21, 2009

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

Despite temperature gauges in Austin reaching 99 today, tomorrow is officially the first day of fall. And, just in time, a "cold" front is due to drop our temps into the 80s tomorrow. This is the time of year when I just have to have faith. It will cool off. Eventually.

So even though temperatures here are not exactly appropriate for warm, comfort foods, I like to pretend. It gets me in the mood for fall. While it's not very green of me, I just have to crank up the a/c and turn on the oven.

I have one more San Francisco recipe to share with you from our adventures in June Taylor's conserve class. I'll post that soon, but I just got my hands on a copy of the newly-released Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle and Phillip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson. I love Big Sur and the rugged coast of California. I've never been to the bakery, but this book makes me want to eat everything they offer. It includes not only delicious, tummy and soul-satisfying recipes, but also shares the stories of the people who source their provisions. Makes me want to live there in a big way.

This cake is the first recipe I've tried from the book. It's big, warm, rustic, and comforting flavors lured me in. Instead of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla are used to compliment the apples and it's a nice change. The nutmeg flavor is big here though, so I scaled it down just a wee bit so as not to be overpowering. I added a little more vanilla too, since I love the combination of apples and vanilla from my favorite apple bomboloni recipe so much.

First, you make a quick apple sauce or apple butter to use in the cake. The recipe called for making double the quantity you need for the cake. It's yummy stuff. You could use the extra in oatmeal at breakfast. But next time I'll just make what's needed for the cake, just to make the apple peeling go a little faster. So I'm cutting the quantities in half below to give you just what you'll need.

Then you make an easy caramel and roast apples in it.

Add the cake batter, bake, and flip. The flip is the trickiest part. Be sure you have a plate or platter larger (by at least a couple of inches all around) than the pan you're cooking the cake in. I made the mistake of not looking for a platter until the cake was in the oven and I didn't have one big enough. We ended up using our largest cutting board. Note: the caramel may run a bit after flipping, so be careful. It's hot stuff.

This makes a luscious cake. It's one of the most comforting desserts I've ever had and it's the perfect thing for fall. The caramelized apples in the bottom (that end up on top after you flip it) turn a burnished golden color that looks like the color of fall itself. If colors could have flavor, this is what deep orangey golden richness should taste like.

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

apple butter/sauce:
1/2 vanilla bean
3 apples, (I used Granny Smiths)
juice of half a lemon
1/8 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 cup sugar

caramel apples:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 apples

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cups flour

First, take out your butter to soften to room temp.

Make the apple butter/sauce: Split the vanilla bean half lengthwise and scrape out the beans with the back of your knife. Put the beans and the vanilla pod into a saucepan. Peel the apples, core and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Add them to the vanilla. Add the lemon juice, apple juice, nutmeg, and sugar. Stir together. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes until the apples are soft enough to mash with the back of a spoon.

Remove the cover, turn down the heat to low, and continue cooking to let the moisture evaporate. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and let cool. Then remove the vanilla pods.

Now, make the caramel apples: preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel and core the apples for the caramel apples. Then cut each apple into 8-10 slices.

Spray or oil a deep oven-safe skillet (about 10 inches). Set aside for use in a moment.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer for a couple of minutes. Turn out into the prepared skillet. Cook the sugar and butter on medium heat until it caramelizes to a deep golden color. This should take 7-10 minutes. Add the sliced, peeled apples. A fan pattern is pretty here. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the apples are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool while you make the cake batter.

Make the cake: cream the butter, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and vanilla in a mixer. Add the egg and 1 cup of your apple sauce/butter. Mix to combine. Add the flour and mix on the lowest speed until just before it's all incorporated. You don't want to overmix it here. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir gently to finish incorporating the flour. Pour out the batter into the pan with the caramel apples and spread it evenly with a spatula.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

Place a platter or plate (larger than the cake pan) over the skillet. Pick up both platter and skillet at the same time using oven mitts and quickly flip the cake over, holding on tightly to both. Set the platter down on a table or counter and then gently lift off the skillet. If any apples remain stuck to the skillet, you can take them out with a spatula and replace them on top of the cake.

Let cake cook for 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving to allow to rest, like a steak. This would be really good with some vanilla ice cream or just a spoonful of whipped cream, but we ate it straight up and loved it.

Adapted from the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle and Phillip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson.

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