Grapefruit & Tarragon Upside-Down Cake

January  5, 2023
5 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 7 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 5 to 6
Author Notes

Welcome to Plus One, a column by Food Editor Emily Ziemski where small-but-mighty additions—ingredients, sauces, toppings—that instantly upgrade whatever’s on the table are the star of the show. Today, a swap from the classic upside down cake for bright, winter produce.

My favorite ’90s food trend has to be the halved grapefruit with bruléed sugar on top. I’d devour those shiny pink segments in their juicy, sugary glory. A little sweet, a little tart, and a little crunchy—the coral-hued fruit played tug-of-war with my taste buds until I was desperately tipping the little half straight into my mouth hoping for just a touch more juice.

Hot on the tails of that memory, I wanted to make a cake that paid homage to my favorite winter citrus. The base here is a mix of gritty cornmeal and tender cake flour, which has the lowest protein content of baking flour at around 6 percent. This means the gluten won’t really develop the same way it would in a bread or cookie, so the finishing crumb is super fluffy and tender. For flavorings, in comes tarragon: a stringy-leafed herb that is very licorice-forward similar to fennel (a common partner to grapefruit in many a wintry citrus salad). And lastly, a sprinkling of demerara sugar—a large, crunchy granulated sugar that has just a touch of molasses—on the bottom of the cake pan yields that signature brulée crunch to the nestled grapefruit slices.
Emily Ziemski

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Grapefruit & Tarragon Upside-Down Cake
  • 1 grapefruit, zested then peeled, de-seeded, and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/3 cup demerara sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 bunch tarragon, de-stemmed and finely chopped
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch cake pan, then line the bottom with parchment. Sprinkle demerara sugar evenly over parchment. Keeping an even layer, line the bottom with the grapefruit slices, trying not to overlap.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the butter and brown sugar together until thoroughly combined and slightly airy. Add the eggs, zest, and vanilla and beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Sift in dry ingredients and blend on medium-low speed until incorporated. Fold in tarragon. Pour mixture over assembled grapefruit slices.
  3. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. After resting at least 15 minutes, gently invert cake onto a serving stand. Serve once cooled, or tightly wrap (or place in an airtight container) and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

Emily Ziemski

Recipe by: Emily Ziemski

Food Editor @ Food52

5 Reviews

Taylor S. April 11, 2023
The cake is delicious and I love the touch of heartiness that cornmeal adds. Next time, I would use a higher quality grapefruit or other fruit as I think my sub-par grapefruit made the cake a little tangy and savory.
Emily Z. April 11, 2023
Thanks Taylor! I love this recipe because I like to change up the fruit as the seasons change (though I'm always devastated to leave behind winter citrus). This spring & summer I'm looking forward to swapping in sliced strawberries, peaches, and blueberries :)
McMonty March 24, 2023
I made this one day as a trial and another the next day for a tea. I made the first one with room temp butter and the second with melted butter as directed. The melted butter made a less appealing-looking cake. Also, it’s easier to cut the grapefruit into rounds first and then de-seed and peel. It’s an unusual flavored cake, but some of my guests loved it.
[email protected] January 18, 2023
I made this cake and I thought it was delicious. I made it in an 8” springform pan, and the sugar leaked out of the bottom - not sure if it’s just my pan, but I would make it in a standard pan in the future. Also, the recipe calls for 1 grapefruit zested, peeled and sliced, but it never says what you are supposed to do with the zest!! I folded it in with the tarragon and it seemed like the right move ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Emily Z. January 19, 2023
Hi David! Great instincts. I definitely recommend a closed pan, as the sugar and fruit kind of mimic a quick jam when baked, hence the extra liquid. The zest goes in with the eggs, but as long as it made it into the cake batter, that's great!