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Sir Gawain's fruit cake turned upside down

  • c

This has become my favorite cake to make! As simple as it is to put together (I'm getting to the point of memorizing it), it looks elegant and is wonderfully delicious and clean in flavor. I love the tweaking possibilities too. This time I turned SG's cake upside down w/ apples and brown sugar placed on the bottom before adding the smooth, stiff batter. See photo and link to original recipe.

I used 3 smallish peeled granny smiths and sliced them quite thin like you see in French apple tarts. I wanted the fruit to melt seamlessly into the cake, but if you want more texture, then cut in thicker slices. I squeezed on some lemon juice while cutting up the fruit to add more tartness and prevent discoloration. Buttered pan and sprinkled on 2-3 TB brown sugar. Neatly fanned apple slices into concentric circle. Poured batter on top and carefully spread out so as to not move apples.

As always, I used 3/4 c. of superfine sugar. To go w/ this fruit choice, I added cinnamon (Penzeys Vietnamese) and nutmeg to the batter. I also used a special Tahitian vanilla extract that my sis brought back from Tahiti. Deep and floral scent. Served w/ French vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. I cooled for about 15 min. before unmolding.

Lovely, lovely, lovely! As usual, it wasn't too sweet and the tart apples were balanced by the brown sugar and buttery cake. Apples melted into the cake, which had a subtle coconut note from the Tahitian vanilla. I've never really cared for much cinnamon, but Penzeys has totally changed that! Highly recommended. My family (every female being a good baker and every male being a good eater) enjoyed this cake very much!

While I liked this delicate version, I think I'll try it w/ apples on top next time. I'm realizing what a nut I am for caramelization in general, and I missed that in this cake. Another possibility is to run under broiler or blow torch after turning out. The apples will stay moist but still get a flash of caramelization to finish. Thanks again, SG, and you bakers who report back on your experiments w/ this wonder of a cake. I really appreciated the fact that I could spontaneously look up the recipe online when I was miles away from my home base.

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  1. Wow! What a beauty! I'm trying that recipe.
    What I'd like to ask you is what type of bake ware do you prefer? Non-stick? Silicone? Springform?
    General thoughts on bakeware?
    Thanks.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Niki Rothman

      For this and other versions of SG's cake, I've always used a 9" nonstick springform. An 8" would work too for some added height, but that might change baking time.

    2. Can't stop drooling; I'm going to incur a fine for destroying this perfectly good office keyboard.

      Is that just some superfine sugar sprinkled on top? I love how it caught on the peaks of the apples.

      How many do you think this would serve? I need to start considering options for holiday parties.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nooodles

        I dusted the top w/ C&H powdered (aka confectioner's) sugar. Better if it has cooled, but we couldn't wait that long to eat so the powdered sugar quickly dissolved after this photo. The white dust did outline the apples better and my blow torch/broiler idea would do the same.

        If you served this w/ ice cream or whipped cream, I would think that it would serve 8-10. I like the lightness of this cake to end heavy holiday meals. Betcha your ginger cardamom ice cream would pair well. I still need to make that!

      2. Congrats on being so adaptable and creating such a beautiful cake in someone else's kitchen!

        Thinking along the lines of tarte tatin and upside down cakes, perhaps a very heavily buttered bottom would produce more caramelization?

        Looking forward to reading about where your Tahitian vanilla extract shows up next! Sounds like a nice touch in SG's cake.

        3 Replies
        1. re: petradish

          I generously greased up the pan w/ butter per the usual. I was wondering if some melted butter would have helped, although I was worried about the excess butter overwhelming and greasing up the apples too much. How much melted butter do you think? Would regular sugar work better than brown in that case?

          Taking a lead from tarte tatin, perhaps making a medium brown caramel first would be better than just using melted butter and sprinkling on sugar? I haven't made an upside down cake in ages so my instincts are rusty.

          BTW, any suggestions for the best way to feature Tahitian vanilla extract? Foods or spices that pair particularly well w/ this variety? I've used some in the past, but again, this one is special and has a very unique flavor...that coconut accent was unexpected but wonderful! Look forward to adding this to my ice creams...

          Tahiti-visiting sis also brought back 4 plump, moist vanilla beans for me that smell incredible and make all the vanilla beans of my past look miserable!

          1. re: Carb Lover

            I think you started a whole new family:
            Sir Gawain's Upside-down Tart Tatin.
            You could butter the pan, put down a layer of brown sugar, then the fruit, then dot with butter. Works on pineapple upside-down cake.

            It occured to me that some rum-soaked raisans on top of the apple slices (before baking) would add.

            Great vanilla would add a lot to your next creme brulee.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              Not sure which would be ideal between brown sugar and white, maybe a bit of both? Experimenting with caramel would probably work too, although SG's cake bakes longer-potential to burn? I'm guessing many things could go right or wrong here.

              Let's see, I'll just throw out these examples for comparison. A pineapple upside down cake recipe (from Mesa Mexicana by Milliken & Feniger) says to stir together the following and coat the bottom of a glass pie pan:

              4 T melted butter
              1/2 c packed brown sugar
              2 T corn syrup (I substitute Lyle's golden syrup or simple syrup)

              It's topped with slices from half a pineapple and then a cake batter, baked for 40-50 min at 325.

              And Julia Child's Tarte Tatin (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) is:

              2 T butter for pan greasing
              1/3 c sugar (to initially coat 4 lbs of apples)
              6 T melted butter
              1/2 c sugar (to mix with butter/apple mixture in pan)

              Into the buttered pan goes some of the sugar and then a layering of apples and melted butter ending with a final sprinkling of sugar. Topped with pastry and baked 375 for 45-60 minutes.

              I've never cooked with that type of vanilla before but it sounds lovely. Vanilla ice cream is right up your alley! Keep us posted.

          2. sounds delish...no trouble with fruit sticking to bottom of cake pan?

            2 Replies
            1. re: fishfork

              No problem at all. My sis's nonstick springform was in good condition, and I greased the bottom well w/ butter (didn't do the flour dusting per SG's original recipe). Once I removed the ring, I flipped onto cake stand and used a stainless steel offset spatula to carefully release from the bottom.

              Come to think of it, first laying down a round of parchment paper and buttering under and on top of it would be good. Will make it much easier to turn out and insure that the fruit comes out nice and neat.

              1. re: fishfork

                In case you (Fishfork) were speaking of the tarte tatin fruit sticking to the bottom instead of the Sir G/CarbL recipe, no it has never been a problem. There's enough caramely liquid on the bottom of the pan to aid in unmolding. If you were speaking of the SG/CL cake, see above mesage :+)

              2. Just when I was beginning to worry that no-one has posted anything about MY cake for weeks... :D

                Looks damn good. For a more caramelized look, I might be temted to try it with apple slices lightly sauteed with sugar, cinnamon, butter and brandy. I make that mixture for an apple clafouti... but then again, I might as well just make the clafouti then.

                Bosc pears might work too, with a light sprinkling of ground cloves & maybe a touch of cardamom in the batter...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sir Gawain

                  No worries...this has now become my go-to cake!!

                  At the risk of overblowing your ego, SG, I think this recipe merits you a second knighthood in CH land.

                2. I resurrected this thread in the hopes that Carb Lover is still loving this cake and might have some pointers for me!

                  My brother has requested an apple cake for his birthday this year, and since neither he nor I have any preconceived notions about what they might be (he said it as a joke, and when I told him there really was such a thing, though I wasn't sure I had ever had one, he insisted I find a recipe and make it), I decided to go with what simply sounds the yummiest. So I have eschewed the "traditional" recipes I found that read to me more like an apple muffin/bread or spice cake, and decided I want to make something along the lines of an apple upside down cake. Since the picture on this post is gorgeous, and Sir Gawain's cake STILL gets raves around here, I think I'm gonna go for it.

                  A few questions though: Carb Lover described not getting the carmelization she wanted. Any ideas on how I might amp that up? Perhaps pre-sauteeing the apples with the butter and sugar? Adding corn syrup?

                  Also, I am toying with the idea of adding applesauce and perhaps cutting down on the butter, both in the interest of calorie consciousness as well as making it more apple-y. What say the Hound bakers out there? A disaster? I know you can sub applesauce for oil, but what about butter?

                  Finally, I like the idea of adding cinnamon and nutmeg to pick up the apples. Any ideas on how much I should add, so they are just accents, rather than turning it into a spice cake?

                  TIA! This is my first Home Cooking post. I'm a moderately skilled baker, but by no means an expert, so I appreciate all the help I can get.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: charmedgirl

                    Wow, no one has any thoughts? :-( Oh well! I guess I'll just wing it and hope for the best!

                    1. re: charmedgirl

                      I've always done these things by putting the fruit, sugar and butter into a greased pan and baking that until it's all fragrant and bubbly and the fruit's mostly cooked, then spreading the cake batter over that. That's how our family always did their pineapple upside down cakes, and the topping does get very nicely caramelized. Works the same with apple toppings, which I've used with lots of batters from cottage pudding to gingerbread.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        I like that approach. I'll try it next time.

                      2. re: charmedgirl

                        If you're using a firm, tart apple such as Granny Smith, it's a good idea to saute the slices first in butter and brown sugar; otherwise, they will not be soft when your cake is done. You might want to add your 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon here. This should also increase the amount of caramely sauce. As for subbing part of the butter for applesauce, it should work fine, but I'd still use at least half the original amount of butter so that you'll get the butter taste. As for nutmeg, I wouldn't add more than 1/4 tsp.

                        1. re: charmedgirl

                          Thanks for resurrecting this thread, charmedgirl! Yes, I still love this cake although I haven't made it in a while. Sir Gawain adequately described this as a summer cake since it's great w/ all the fruit that's now coming into season. In response to your questions:

                          1. Instead of sauteing the fruit, I would probably run the unmolded cake under the broiler to get that flash of caramelization. No corn syrup.

                          2. I think all the butter is absolutely necessary for the flavor and crumb of the cake. Use Plugra (found at Trader Joe's for cheap) if you can. It's such a simple cake that less butter will make it less special.

                          3. I added cinnamon and nutmeg directly to the cake batter instead of the apples. I prefer that since it distributes the flavors better, IMO. I also wouldn't want to run the top under the broiler if there were spices on the apples since I'd be afraid they might burn and get bitter.

                          Hope it works well for you. If you're getting any other great fruit where you're living right now, then I'd consider using that instead of apples and following SG's standard method of fruit on top (not upside down). Right now, I'd make a cherry and apricot version since it's the perfect window of time in CA. Thanks for reminding me about this cake!!

                          1. re: charmedgirl

                            Excellent, thanks for all the suggestions!!! I super appreciate it. I will be sure to report back on what I decided and how it turned out.

                            1. re: charmedgirl

                              Thanks for all the suggestions everybody! I decided to follow the recipe almost exactly as written; since we were having guests I didn't want to risk an "experiment" going awry. I used butter as called for and cooked it "right side up." The only additions I made were to add some cinnamon, nutmeg and cut up apples to the batter. I also used 3/4 cup of sugar as other posters had indicated they had done.

                              All in all I was pretty happy with it. It made a gorgeous presentation with the apples arranged on top, and it came together very easily. The consistency was not at all what I expected, though -- it had a denser, spongier quality to it than I had thought it would. Although I didn't sub applesauce like I had considered, it actually had the same texture as cakes where fruit puree has been substituted. I think that was due to the extra apples I had put inside the batter -- extra moisture maybe? Anyway, I didn't totally love the texture, since I had been hoping for a more cake-like consistency. I think I want to try the recipe again without any fruit inside and see how that turns out.

                              Flavor-wise it was good, the 1 tsp of cinnamon was perfect. I have a bit of a sweet tooth, and I think I would have prefered it a bit sweeter. Next time I think I would use the 1 cup called for in the original recipe.

                              I followed the advice to put sugar on the top and then run it under the broiler to get the carmelized texture. That didn't work too well, but I think it was due to my own inexperience. I had never done that before, and I think I used too much sugar. Not all of it carmelized before the edges of the apple slices started getting a little too brown. I had to pull it early to prevent burning. But like I said, that was my bad. If I had used less sugar I think it would have worked like a charm.

                              Most importantly though, my brother liked it -- and that's really all that mattered to me since it was his birthday cake. Thanks again for the help!

                            2. Thanks for the reminder about this cake! I'd made it a few times (both upside-down and regular) and it was always fabulous. I made it again on Saturday with fresh raspberries and apricot halves (cooked on top, not upside-down).

                              Eaten fresh, the apricots had no flavor whatsoever, and I thought that baking them on the cake might improve them. I was right! Cooking brought out the flavor of both fruits, and the cake emerged from the oven not only looking beautiful, but smelling deliciously fruity. Partner and friends commented on how wonderful it smelled, and said that the tart fruit was a good contrast with the buttery cake. It was lovely served with cream.

                              I think I'll keep this recipe in mind for the next time I bring home fruit that turns out to be disappointing.