For the most part, I'm not a cake person. With the possible exception of chocolate idiot cake, I'll choose pie over cake any day. (That kind of makes it sound like this is a dilemma that I face frequently. I wish.)
But my mom's birthday was last week and I thought I should probably make her a birthday cake rather than a birthday pie. I'd seen some recipes for apple cakes, like this one, which looks like a distant cousin of tarte tatin (an upside-down apple tart). Since tarte tatin is one of the best things in the world, it follows that a cake tatin should be pretty tasty too, right? And my apples say they were grown in the USA, so it's even somewhat seasonal.
I ended up using a How to Cook Everything Vegetarian recipe, "Plum-Rosemary Upside-Down Cake," with several modifications. 1) Obviously, apples instead of plums, and no rosemary. 2) Caramel instead of a layer of brown sugar on the bottom of the pan. 3) I added some spices. 4) Yogurt instead of buttermilk. 5) I just realized that I doubled the amount of butter in the recipe, since you're supposed to use half of it to grease the pan. Oops.
Upside-down apple cake
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
makes one 9-inch cake; takes about 1.5 hours, mostly baking time
1 cup sugar (divided use)
1/3 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 apples, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick (I used two Granny Smiths and one Pink Lady)
1 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter (skip this if you're using a nonstick pan). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup of the sugar with the water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it is amber-colored, then pour it into the cake pan as evenly as possible. It will harden fairly quickly.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Arrange the apple pieces in a single layer in the cake pan. This will end up being the top of the cake, so try for a nice-looking pattern. Mine looked like this:
Whisk the melted butter, yogurt, eggs, and remaining sugar together until foamy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. The batter will be thick. Spoon the batter evenly onto the apples and spread it into an even layer.
Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a serving plate. (Place the serving plate on top of the pan, then flip the whole thing over and remove the pan slowly. The cake should fall right out, but if it doesn't, run a knife around the edge of the pan and try again.)
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
(Please excuse my poor photography. It was really pretty in real life.)
This cake was pretty good, and it was actually better the next day; I'm not sure why. It was even sort of healthy, for cake. My problem was that I wanted it to be more apple-y: I only used one layer of apple slices because I was worried that raw apples wouldn't cook properly if there were too many of them, but that wasn't enough for me. I can think of a few ways to fix this: 1) Use more apple slices. There are a lot of apple pie and apple crisp recipes that use raw apples, and they turn out fine, so it should work here too. 2) Cook the apples briefly, as in the tarte tatin recipe. 3) Grate or finely chop the raw apples and add them to the batter.
Or I could just make pie next time.