To some readers, the phrase “upside-down cake” likely elicits visions of golden pineapple rings and ruby cherries swathed in sticky caramel. Yes, the pineapple version is ubiquitous, but other renditions of this topsy-turvy cake actually predate it.
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In the mid-19th century, cooks baked skillet cakes in cast-iron skillets, often with a layer of seasonal fruit such as apples, berries, or stone fruit sitting beneath the batter. However, the popularity of these cakes skyrocketed in the 1920s with the rise in popularity of canned pineapple rings, helping give pineapple upside-down cake the iconic status it enjoys today.
Pineapple Upside-Down CakeThis beautiful retro cake deserved an update—and kicking the can(ned pineapple) was just the start.
These days, nearly every fruit (and even some vegetables) has been layered with sugar, baked under a buttery cake, and turned out for a showstopping presentation. Orange versions are particularly trendy, likely due to the beautiful stained-glass look mixed varieties can provide.
Adapting the classic recipe isn’t as simple as swapping one sliced fruit for another, though: Modifications are necessary to accommodate the unique flavor and delicate texture of oranges. The traditional brown sugar or caramel topping overshadows the bright flavor of oranges, but cleaner-tasting white sugar allows it to shine through.
The Perfect CakeThe definitive guide to any cake you crave, from classic anytime Pound Cake (“The recipe is genius and worth the price of the book.” —The Wall Street Journal) to a stunning and impressive Blueberry Jam Cake with brilliant ombré frosting.
Citrus fruits are also extra-juicy; some cornstarch in the topping helps gel that extra moisture so that the cake doesn’t turn soggy. A standard stir-together butter cake (enriched with sour cream for moisture and tang) provides a plush, sturdy base for the fruit, and a little orange zest in the batter underlines the floral citrus flavor throughout the cake.
As tasty as the cake is, the wow factor lies in its stunning look. Using Cara Cara, navel, and blood oranges creates a mix of sunset hues; using only one variety still makes a beautiful, though understated, cake. Peeling the fruit by hand, as opposed to cutting away the peel with a knife, helps ensure picture-perfect round slices. And a finishing brush of orange marmalade adds sheen and bolsters the orange flavor.
The end result? A cake that looks as cheerful as it tastes.