Today is my first blogversary. In honor of this event, I decided to make a cake. A delicious, seasonal cake. The kind of cake that's so good that it convinced my friend JMc that she really does like a cake that she lumps into a category she previously despised: "fruit desserts." This cake represents my sole foray into the world of upside-down cakes, because it's so delicious that I've never felt the need to explore further.
The first (and most important) thing to make this cake is to go to the store and buy some cranberries while you still can. They populate the refrigerated berry section only for a few short months, usually from November 1st (in time for the traditional Thanksgiving sauce) to about January 1st. Maybe in a location closer to the bogs of the Northeast you can find cranberries at other times of the year, but I haven't seen them in California past January. That is to say, if you don't buy cranberries within the next two weeks, you won't be able to make this cake for months and months, until they appear in the store again. That would be tragic.
But if you do purchase cranberries (and I really think you should), heed the instructions on the outside of the bag: "Buy two, freeze one." Cranberries freeze so well that you can just toss a bag (or three) into the freezer for use all year round. Then, when you're craving this cake on a cold day at some other time of year, you'll be able to make it without delay.
It hasn't been as cold this week as last, but the winter holidays are clearly upon us. The pumpkin patch across the street is now officially a Christmas tree lot, and I've ordered a lot of presents in the past week. Also, I made my first batch of toffee a few days ago, and I've been thinking about what to pack for B's and my joint family trip to Tahoe next week.
Partially because of the cold, and partially because of the season, and partially because my life is stressful, I've been in the mood for homey, comforting desserts. (Believe it or not, it's been weeks since I've made ice cream! Though, truthfully, that's going to change this weekend.) This buttermilk cake, with its topping of cranberries and walnuts softened in brown sugar and butter, fits the homey-comforting-dessert bill perfectly. It isn't much to look at, but the taste and texture are divine: tart yet sweet, and thoroughly moist. My favorite part is where the topping meets the cake; it's here that the brown sugar flavor is most prominent, and the texture slightly gooey. An ideal afternoon snack, I can add from experience that a slice of this cake makes an excellent breakfast as well.
The original recipe calls for a 10-inch skillet, but I don't have one, so I've adapted it to an extremely useful round-bottomed 2-quart Pyrex dish I have (the same one I use for red gnocchi). You could really make this recipe in any number of vessels, provided that you like the shape when it's turned out upside-down. Invariably, some of the topping will stick to the bottom of the cake pan, but you can scoop it up with a spoon and put it right back onto the cake without anyone noticing your patchwork.
I think the recipe for this cranberry-walnut cake epitomizes some of the goals of my blog: it's quick, it uses mostly freezer or pantry ingredients, and it's delicious. Try it if you get a chance over this holiday season; I think you'll really like it.
Here's to many more blogversaries to come! Enjoy.
Cranberry Walnut Upside-down Cake
Time: 20 min active, 75 minutes total
For the topping:
4 T. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. chopped walnuts
2 c. cranberries (fresh or frozen)
For the cake:
6 T. unsalted butter (3/4 stick), softened
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. First, make the topping. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, then add the brown sugar. Stir until dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the walnuts and cranberries (O.K. if still frozen), and stir until the brown sugar melts again, approximately 2 minutes. Spoon the topping into a 2-quart capacity oven-safe vessel.
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Add 1/2 c. flour, baking powder, soda, and salt, and mix well. Add half the buttermilk, then another 1/2 c. flour. Repeat with remaining buttermilk and flour, being careful not to overmix. Scrape the cake into the 2-quart vessel containing the cranberry topping.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester plunged into the center of the cake comes out clean (your baking time will vary considerably depending on the diameter of the vessel you choose). Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge, then invert onto a serving platter. Spoon any extra topping from the dish and place on top of the cake.
Cake will keep for 3 to 4 days, tightly covered, and is best served warm.