Move Aside, Pineapple: There's a Better Upside-Down Cake in Town

October 12, 2017

Who doesn’t love an upside down cake—a dessert that makes its own saucy topping and pretty much decorates itself! Pineapple is the classic—complete with canned rounds and maraschino cherries. It was great in its time—because, let's admit it, it's a bit dated—and still good if you do it well. But it begs to be knocked off, riffed upon, twisted, turned sideways, or reinvented altogether.

You can raise the bar by simply skipping the cherries and replacing the canned fruit with fresh pineapple like I did in Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts. You can go gluten-free, like I did in Flavor Flours, with a butter cake made with rice and oat flours. You can replace pineapple with apples, pears, or stone fruit, or can swap the cake itself for gingerbread. But I’m not nearly done turning this cake and its fruit on its head.

We fig-ured out an alternative. Photo by Rocky Luten

Here’s a new twist for fall. The cake is a rustic textured sponge cake, genoise-style, made with chestnut flour and brown butter. Yes, it’s gluten-free. The saucy-sweet brown sugar topping gets a little warmth and acid from lemon juice and zest, and soaks the cake just enough to make it slightly gooey—in a good way. Unsweetened (or barely-sweetened) whipped crème fraîche is the perfect contrast against sweet earthy chestnuts and seductive figs.

Ripe figs are sweet, almost jammy, to begin with—rather than tart or tangy like stone fruit or berries or apples. (I’m convinced that most people who insist they don’t like figs have never eaten one that’s ripe.) Earthy, complex sweeteners like brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup, complement the figs’ subtle sweetness perfectly. Maximize this earthiness by adding a cool, creamy element like goat cheese, sour cream, yogurt, crème fraîche, or even cottage cheese—they make all of those figgy flavors pop. Save leftovers for breakfast.

What's your favorite way to play around (or not) with upside-down cake? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • txgreyhound
  • A Saloutos
    A Saloutos
  • Debbie
  • Chip
  • Lauren
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


txgreyhound October 24, 2017
Growing up figs were in the household because they were a passion of my moms. So I had constant exposure to them. Nonetheless I don't like them. My all time favorite upside down cake is apricot. I have my grandmother's recipe and make it on special occasions.
A S. October 15, 2017
Can you please be specific regarding how to use honey and/or maple syrup as replacements for granulated/brown sugars? I would LOVE to make the recipe that way and think it would be a stellar pot luck contribution. Thank you for considering my question!
Debbie October 15, 2017
Thanks for a new idea for figs. I recently made some fried hand pies using some of my canned figs that turned out delicious. Here in the south we have figs in great abundance. I'm hoping to find a great way to create dehydrated figs wrapped up in grape leaves. I think something like this recipe is definitely on my to-do list.
Chip October 12, 2017
Hey, lay off the pineapple upside-down cake! It's a classic for a reason.
Lauren October 12, 2017
Can you substitute chestnut flour for AP flour? I have no idea where to find chestnut flour (although I do love chestnuts)
Alice M. October 12, 2017
Hi Lauren! Thanks for asking. Flours are not always interchangeable in recipes, but in this case you can indeed substitute 3.5 ounces (100g) all-purpose flour for the chestnut flour. To be honest, the results won't be as special or interesting or unusual as the chestnut and fig cake that I created, but it should work. Since you love chestnuts (as I do) why not try some chestnut flour? I order from Allen Creek Farms ( If you have my book, "Gluten Free Flavor Flours", you'll be rewarded with an entire chapter of recipes that call for chestnut flour! Best, of luck with the cake.
Barbara R. October 15, 2017
Could a different flour be substituted, such as coconut or almond?
witloof October 15, 2017
I've seen chestnut flour at Whole Foods, and if there is an Italian grocery in your area you'll be able to find it there.