Meet the Baker Behind Our Contest-Winning Cake

May 14, 2018

Jessie Sheehan just won our latest recipe contest, Your Best Banana or Plantain Recipe, with her Caramelized Banana Upside-Down Cake.

Between the start and conclusion of our contest, this bronzed beauty made many appearances in our office and every time, without fail, it was there then—poof!—gone. Jessie says it serves 8 but it might be more like 6 or 4 or 1. Who can tell anyway? Don’t ask us.

We chatted about her winning recipe, upcoming cookbook (cake included!), desert island dessert, and more.

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How and when did you develop this upside-down cake recipe?

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Top Comment:
“I like the concept, but can't stand bananas:-( How do you think this would work with plums or peaches? I need a really great dessert to take to our dinner group in a couple of weeks. Thanks!”
— Linda

I developed the recipe last fall, after having spent the summer obsessively baking everything (and anything) in my 10-inch cast iron skillet. Peach cake and a brown butter Rice Krispie treat cookie were total skillet-friendly favorites, but the caramelized fruit that a skillet upside-down cake delivers proved pretty unbeatable.

When I was in third grade, I made my own version of “caramelized bananas” on the regular, slicing bananas, topping them with butter and brown sugar and placing them in the toaster-oven till the whole mess was melty and warm. So, when I eyed Naomi Robinson’s banana upside-down cake in her book Baker’s Royale, the deal was sealed.

I chose to develop a recipe for an oil-based cake, as I love the easy assembly (no stand-mixer) and moist, tender crumb. I called for butter only in the caramel, which I like with brown sugar and just a touch of salt to cut the sweetness. With a dribble of heavy cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it’s essentially the grown-up version of the sweet and buttery toasted bananas, loved so much by my 8-year-old self.

Have you tried it with other fruits before? Or any ones you've been wanting to try?

I’ve tried it with pears, which I adore. And I will likely try it with plums, this summer, as well as bright red, fresh currants. I’ve seen upside-down cakes made with cranberries in the fall, and I think currants would be the perfect summer version, providing that same tart bite, that marries so beautifully with sweet cake and ice cream.

A little bird told us that you're publishing a cookbook—congrats! What’s one recipe you’re really excited about from The Vintage Baker?

Thank you! Since we are discussing upside-down cakes, I’d like to give my raspberry marshmallow upside-down cake from the book a little shout-out. The cake is not made in a cast iron skillet, alas, and does not call for embedding the raspberries in caramel, but the marshies literally caramelize around the berries and into the cake itself, making for a truly special and very much upside-down cake eating experience.

What's your most splattered, stained, dog-eared cookbook?

Gosh, that’s a tough one, but the two that have seen an equal amount of wear and tear and have been with me the longest, are my 2003 copy of The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion and my 2004 copy of Baking Illustrated. Classics both, if you ask me.

And your can’t-cook-without kitchen tool?

Does an oven thermometer count? I never trust my own oven to be accurate 100 percent of the time, let alone anyone else’s! But if tool is the operative word here, as in something you work with while baking, I would say a silicone spatula—nothing scrapes up the bottom of the KitchenAid mixer bowl (where unincorporated batter is wont to hang out) better than a flexible spatula.

Are you a savory or sweet breakfast person? (Or, gasp, not a breakfast person at all?)

Definitely sweet—and definitely donut-obsessed, if you must know. Not that I would turn down a yeasted sticky bun, warm from the oven, for breakfast. However, fried is essentially my favorite food group—and if the fried item is warm, has a hole in it and is dusted with cinnamon sugar, well then I’m pretty much in morning-time heaven.

You’re on a desert island and you can have one dessert. What is it?

Well, because I am imagining that the desert island might be kind of hot, with not a lot of shade (I’m basically picturing a pile of sand with one palm tree sticking out of the middle, surrounded by water), I would have to say a pink peppermint stick ice cream sundae with thick hot fudge sauce, lots of whipped cream (maybe even a small bowl of extra cream on the side, so that when I get to the bottom of the bowl, and the last spoonful or two of ice cream, I can still top each bite with a bit of whipped cream), and a non-obligatory cherry on top.

Go Jessie! Share your congrats (and cake compliments) in the comments.


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kim
  • Atlkenn
  • Linda
  • Lester Mosko
    Lester Mosko
  • carrie
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Kim October 26, 2021
I Made This Cake And Was So Happy With How It Turned Out 😇My Favorite Thing In The World Is Banana Foster And Thats What This Cale Tastes Like I’m In LOVE 😇…..Kim
Atlkenn February 18, 2021
This turned out great! I added some chocolate chips to it after pouring batter over bananas. Really good! Will make this again and change it up a little each time fruit, nuts, etc.
Linda August 6, 2018
Emma, thanks for the quick response! Yes, whipped cream for it would be great with creme fraiche as well. Will let you know how my experiment turns out.
Linda August 6, 2018
I like the concept, but can't stand bananas:-( How do you think this would work with plums or peaches? I need a really great dessert to take to our dinner group in a couple of weeks.
Emma L. August 6, 2018
Hi Linda! I think it would work well with either—or even berries. Not sure how far you're traveling, but if you can bring a bowl of whipped cream, it goes so well here. (Here is a great piece on how to make sturdier whipped cream: And if you do try another fruit, let us know how it goes!
Lester M. May 20, 2018
Thanks Jesse I am a huge banana fan. Could you use any other milk?
Jessie S. July 4, 2020
you're so welcome - and sorry for the delayed response! yes - you could use whole milk or even nut milk.
carrie May 18, 2018
Congrats! Your recipes are great and always turn out as expected. Can't wait to tuck into your new cookbook!
Jessie S. July 4, 2020
thank you so much and sorry for the delayed response!
Shalini May 16, 2018
Your raspberry marshmallow cake sounds so compelling!
Jessie S. July 4, 2020
thank you! am just seeing this over two years later!!!
Suzanne D. May 14, 2018
Congratulations, Jessie! This cake definitely serves 1 in my book. :)
Jessie S. May 14, 2018
Thank u Suzanne! And i was just trying to be polite when i wrote the cake served 8 . . . one or two is much more like it.