Warm Winter Rhubarb Upsidedown Cake
Upsidedown cake is one of my favourite cakes to make. It's so versatile, the only thing about it that you need to change is the type of fruit you have on hand. Some caramel and some cut fruit are all you need to make this cake a star. I love making this upsidedown cake with rhubarb, it is very easy to prepare for the cake and the flavours blend so well, with a touch of sourness. January is a perfect time for this cake, the warm spices in the wintertime by the fire are an ideal mix. But rhubarb in January? Yes, it is possible. Winter rhubarb, or forced rhubarb, is a thing of the 60s when farmers would try to extend their harvest into the winter months in Ontario, learn more about it here. Don’t want to use rhubarb, or can’t find any, use any other fruit that bakes well. Peaches, plums, apples, pineapple, cranberry, blueberry, anything. Enjoy this cake with a cup of warm tea or hot chocolate by the fire, with some caramel sauce poured on top, it’s a perfect after-dinner dessert.
Upsidedown Cake Ingredients
Luckily, this recipe is super versatile. The rhubarb can be easily replaced with any other fruit that bakes well. I like using rhubarb because it is so easy to prepare and bakes well. But I’ve also made this cake with peaches, plums, apples, and pineapple. When making the caramel, you’ll want to use white sugar as it caramelises the best and doesn’t already have a deep flavour and colour, which could result in a very dark and bitter flavour. Using white sugar allows you to avoid that. For the cake itself, the use of brown sugar and white granulated sugar allows a deep flavour development from the beginning, allowing the cake to take well to the spices that come next. The spices I use in the cake are ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves with a hint of nutmeg. Adding these spices in while creaming the butter allows the flavours to infuse in the upsidedown cake batter from the beginning with the sugar almost pulverising the spices into the butter. Using all-purpose flour with a good amount of baking powder allows this cake to stay light and fluffy as much as possible. Upsidedown cake is characteristically heavy and dense, and I tried to evade that by adding a generous amount of baking powder. Though the cake will be weighed down by the fruit on top, it still holds a good amount of fluffiness. The all-purpose flour does a great job of keeping the fluffiness in the cake and preventing the baking powder’s wonderful job from magically disappearing. Using buttermilk allows the cake to retain its moisture and be super fluffy. The acidity in the buttermilk helps activate the baking powder resulting in a super fluffy cake. The buttermilk also helps cause really good hydration of the ingredients and has enough left over to keep the cake moist for ages after baking.
Upsidedown Cake Method
This upsidedown cake is super easy to make which is why I love it. You can use a cake pan if you’d like, but I like using an oven-safe cast iron pan, my favourite is the Staub 26cm/10” Cast Iron Frying Pan. If you’re using a cake pan, go ahead and line it with a parchment round on the bottom and grease the sides. In the frying pan, or if you are using a cake pan, in a saucepan, add the sugar for the caramel and set over medium-low heat. Allow this to turn to a liquid, and then it will quickly start to change colours. Once the sugar becomes liquid, be careful to not mix it as it can crystallise. Prepare your rhubarb by washing it and cutting it into pieces for the upsidedown cake. I like keeping my rhubarb in long strips the length of the pan, cutting it to fit. I keep the shorter pieces for the top and bottom of the pan where the sides narrow. You could also do small pieces, or in halves. It’s up to you how you want your cake to look. Lay the pieces on top of the caramel and set aside. When the colour starts to change and you see that it is not even colour, you can pick up the pan and swirl the sugar, just be careful to not swirl too much. Sometimes in a black frying pan, it's hard to know the colour of the caramel, so you can use a spoon to pick up the caramel and look at the colour or you can make the caramel in another pan and pour it into the cast iron. When the caramel is ready to use, it should be a light amber colour. Just barely starting to turn golden, take it off the heat and set it aside. The heat from the pan and the sugar will continue to caramelise the sugar and continue to develop as time goes on.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a mixing bowl, combine the butter and two sugars and cream until light and fluffy. Add in the spices and mix vigorously until you can smell the spices. The mixture should be light and fluffy, visibly lighter than the yellow from the butter but not too light that it doesn’t hold its shape. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. You can make sure that the eggs are well combined and no egg whites are left behind. If you’re doing this by hand, it can be a bit hard as there are more eggs than there is butter. The eggs do provide a lot of the cake’s moisture. I like to do this next part by hand, but it isn’t imperative and you can do it using a mixer. Gently fold in one third of the flour and baking powder, followed by one third of the buttermilk. Keep folding until it is three quarters mixed in, still some of it left to be mixed in. Add in half of the remaining dry ingredients and fold a bit more before adding half of the remaining buttermilk. Again, keep folding until approximately three quarters of the dry ingredients and buttermilk is folded in and repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk. Folding in the ingredients like this prevents the cake from getting chewy or dry. Quickly grease the sides of the cake or frying pan and transfer the cake batter to the pan on top of the rhubarb. Using a spatula, spread the batter in an even layer and smooth the top. Place on the middle rack of a preheated oven and watch for the next 45 minutes to an hour as the cake creates a wonderful scent in your kitchen.
The cake is ready to take out of the oven when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean except for two or three crumbs on the toothpick. When the cake is ready, take it out of the oven and set it aside. You’ll need to allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes until the cake is still warm, but the pan can be handled. Losen the cake from the sides of the pan using a knife, and place a serving platter on top of the pan. Quickly flip the pan and when you feel the upsidedown cake come loose and fall onto the platter, remove the pan. Cut the cake into pieces and serve warm with a warm caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Rhubarb Upsidedown Cake
10" cast iron pan
stand mixer or mixing bowl
150 g granulated sugar
450 g trimmed rhubarb
85 g butter (softened)
120 g dark brown sugar
50 g granulated sugar
2 lg eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
3 g cinnamon powder
½ tsp ginger powder
⅛ tsp clove powder
pinch ground nutmeg
8 g baking powder
120 g buttermilk
195 g all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
In the cast iron pan (or saucepan) add the first measure of granulated sugar and set over medium-low flame. Allow the sugar to melt. Swirl it every minute until a light amber colour is achieved. Set this aside. If you are using a saucepan, transfer the caramel to a lined and greased cake pan.
Wash and trim the rhubarb to the size of the pan. Arrange the rhubarb in one even layer on top of the caramel.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars. Cream until a fluffy consistency forms.
Add the spices, vanilla, and salt. Mix until the mixture is fragrant.
Slowly add each egg, mixing well between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
In a bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients. Add one third of these ingredients to the butter mixture as well as one third of the buttermilk. Fold these in gently until three quarters of the flour and buttermilk are incorporated. Add half of the remaining dry ingredients and half of the remaining buttermilk and fold in to the mixture until three quarters of the flour and buttermilk are mixed in. Finish with the remaining dry ingredients and buttermilk until it is all incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan with the caramel and rhubarb. Bake the cake for 45 minutes to one hour, until a toothpick inserted comes out with two to three crumbs on it.
Allow the cake to cool until the pan can be handled but the cake is still warm. Losen the side of the cake. Place a serving platter over the pan and then flip the pan over so the cake falls onto the platter. Serve warm and enjoy with a caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.