Stone fruit season is almost over, so let’s send it off in style and glory with this plum upside down cake. A simple yellow cake, all that you see while it bakes, hide what’s shining underneath. The plums underneath get richly caramelized in brown sugar, honey, and butter, for a real “aha!” moment when you flip the cake over once it’s out of the oven. The upside-down cake has been a classic for so long for a reason; it’s so simple yet so beautiful, and with these plums it’s the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer.
As I sat down to write this post, I put on Aretha Franklin in the background. I grew up listening to a lot of Aretha (I still remember my mom rolling her eyes when my dad brought home yet another Aretha album, this one a 4-disc set), and she’s been my music to cook and bake to since the news came out a few days ago that she’d passed away. But about one sentence in, I realized that Aretha is not for while you write; she demands that you really listen, no matter how many times you’ve heard Think. Is this at all related to this plum upside down cake? No, but I felt like taking a second to appreciate a woman who demanded that you stand up, take notice, and give her the respect she deserves. All hail the queen.
Now back to this cake. The recipe comes from an old Fannie Farmer Cookbook that belonged either to my mom or grandmother. Possibly both. The original calls for pineapples or canned peaches, but I decided to use sliced fresh plums because I can still get them and they’re delicious. They caramelize in a mixture of brown sugar, butter, and honey, until they’re achingly sweet and tender. The layer that goes over (or under, depending on your perspective) the fruit is very simple and not too sweet, and it plays perfectly against the caramelized fruit. The plums turn a deep, rich red that just screams “stick a fork in me!”. I took this to a preschool picnic last week, and I came back with only crumbs.
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 6 plums, halved, pitted, and cut into thin wedges
- 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup butter, melted and cooled
- Butter a 9” cake pan and preheat the oven to 400°F.
- In a medium saucepan, mix together the 6 tablespoons of butter, brown sugar, and honey and cook over low heat until a smooth and thick sauce forms. Transfer to the bottom of the cake pan, then spread the plum slices in overlapping concentric circles over the filling. The prettier the plum design at this stage, the prettier the cake will be.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the ½ cup of melted butter, ½ cup milk, and beaten egg.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Pour the wet ingredients in and gently stir with a rubber spatula.
- Pour the cake batter over the plums. Use a rubber spatula to gently spread it evenly over the plums, making sure to get to the edges of the cake pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a serving dish, let stand upside down for 5 minutes, then gently lift off the cake pan.