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

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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.

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We fig-ured out an alternative.
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.

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Fig Upside-Down Cake

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Serves 8-10

Topping

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  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick/55 grams) unsalted butter, very soft, plus enough extra to grease the pan
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 small lemon, preferably unsprayed or organic
  • 12-16 small ripe figs

Cake

  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (100 grams) chestnut flour
  • 2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 large cold eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (I use fine sea salt)
Go to Recipe

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

Tags: upside-down cake, figs