Monday, April 14, 2008

cranberry upside-down cake

I love cranberries and buy them any chance I get. The dried ones I devour immediately. The fresh ones, though, I buy and then leave in the fridge and eventually throw out, because I don't know what one does with fresh cranberries, and I'm usually feeling too lazy to make a smoothie. (For some reason, while I'm willing to spend hours and hours on a cake, a smoothie or shake seems impossibly inconvenient. If I'm to have one, I have to bribe my husband into making them for me.) This time, though, I discovered something cranberry I wanted to bake--Dorie's Cranberry Upside-Down cake. I cross my fingers and went to the fridge to check out the cranberries. There were a few bad ones, but most of them still looked quite good, considering I'd had them for three or four months. So I washed them off and started on the cake.

I was delighted by the simplicity of the recipe. (I suspect I'll be saying this a lot--my favorite cakes come from Pierre's Chocolate Desserts, and with my amateur baking skills, none of them are simple.) The base is a small, mild spice cake. The topping is cranberries and pecans pressed into a mixture of sugar and butter brought to a boil and then poured into the bottom of the pan. After baking, you top the cake with red currant jelly. (Which was another delight--I'm a bit of a compulsive grocery shopper, so I've had red currant jelly in the cupboard for months with no specific plans for it. But suddenly, I had a recipe that called for red currant jelly [which I hadn't noticed until B pointed it out to be after the cake was done], and lo and behold, I had the jelly on hand. It is moments like this that reinforce my bad shopping habits.) The overall effect was that of a nice coffee cake.

We ate the cake while it was still warm. B didn't care for it--he doesn't like sour things, squishy things, having nuts in a dessert, and most spice cakes. I, however, loved it. The crackling sugar, the crunchy nuts, the plump, squashy berries, the soft cake, and the contrast of sweet and tart, balanced with the background flavor of cake. It tastes like Christmas, and I could happily eat it for breakfast every day.

I could happily eat this for breakfast every day. I'm sad knowing that after I use my last few cranberries (only half as many as I need), I won't get any more of this cake until fall, since I haven't been doing the smart thing that Dorie does and stashing bags of cranberries in my freezer while they're in season.

Cranberry Upside-Downer (Baking from My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan)

1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 C minus 2 TB sugar
1/4 C chopped walnuts or pecans
2 C cranberries--fresh or frozen (do not thaw if frozen)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 C whole milk
1/3 C red currant jelly, for glazing

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put an 8 x 2" round cake pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle in 6 tablespoon of sugar and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Pour this evenly over the bottom of the cake pan, then scatter over the nuts and top with the cranberries, smoothing the layer and pressing it down gently with your fingertips. (If you've used frozen berries and they've caused the butter to congeal, don't worry--everything will melt in the oven.) Set aside.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the remaining stick (8 TB) of butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the remaining 1/2 C sugar and continue to beat until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Pour in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half of the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. mix in the milk, then the rest of the dry ingredients. Spoon the batter over the cranberries and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove it from the oven and run a blunt knife between the sides of the pand and the cake. Carefully turn the cake out onto a serving platter. If any of the berries tick to the pan, just scrap them off with a table knife and return them to the cake.

Warm the jelly in a small saucepan over low heat, or do this in a microwave oven. Gently brush the glaze over the hot cake.

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