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This is the Cake to Make Before Summer Turns to Fall

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Once upon a time—okay, two summers ago—I fell in love with a plum cake. Our relationship, it's fair to say, was a complex one. This cake had high standards: It wanted me to blend plums to a pulp, then mix them into a purple, sour caramel. It wanted me to incorporate crème fraîche and semolina flour and egg yolks. It wanted me to layer, drizzle, and spread—and all in a springform pan.

Now, I still stand by that cake—and my love for it is real—but this 2017 version is gentler and less demanding. It's a more mature, more comfortable relationship. It's a cake that takes minutes, rather than hours, to put together. It's a cake that accommodates the "summer lifestyle" (or the summer lifestyle you, er, aspire to).

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Plum-Nectarine Upside-Down Skillet Cake
Plum-Nectarine Upside-Down Skillet Cake

First, the caramel. Instead of making a true caramel sauce, you make a lazy-bones version: Melt butter in the bottom of an oven-safe skillet, then sprinkle brown sugar and sliced almonds on top. The heat of the oven will do the work of caramelization, no stirring required.

Next, the fruit, which is also treated simply: Slice your favorite stone fruit (nectarines, plums, pluots, apricots, apriplums?) into wedges and arrange them as rustically or fancifully as you'd like (the almonds will cover up any mishaps, anyhow).

Looks great with a dollop of whipped cream, no?
Looks great with a dollop of whipped cream, no? Photo by Julia Gartland

The cake has no spices or infusions, relying instead on the ripe sweetness of late-summer fruit, lemon zest, the pleasant tang of buttermilk, and a bit of vanilla and almond extracts. The juices from the fruit run into the sugar and butter below as the cake bakes; and then, when you invert it onto a serving platter, it drips back into the tender cake beneath it, serving double duty.

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I'd add this cake to my list of must-bake summer desserts, which is expanding at a troubling rate. It's the kind that will help you cling to the season for the dear life, the kind you'll spend most of the winter and spring longing for.

It may not be as sexy as a multi-layered cake with plum caramel, but it's humble, simple, and good—and you'll have enough time to get out of the kitchen, frolic outside, and eat cake, too.

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Plum-Nectarine Upside-Down Skillet Cake

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Serves 10 to 12
  • 1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 3 nectarines, sliced into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 3 plums, sliced into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
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A few recipe notes:

  • If you don't like almond flavor, or you want a nut-free cake, feel free to omit both the nuts and the extract.
  • But keep the lemon zest! The cake benefits from the bright acidity it adds.
  • It's tempting to let your cake cool completely in the pan, but you do want to turn it out while it's still warm—otherwise, the caramel layer will adhere to your pan as it cools and hardens.
  • If you swap in different types of stone fruit, you'll want to make sure you're using around 2 pounds.

What's one dessert you'd still like to make before summer ends? Tell us in the comments below!