It’s a great time in the history of the world for recipe collectors. In the old days, you could get recipes from your Mom and other relatives and exchange recipes with friends, and actually, those are still the best ones. And if your Grandma is still alive and coherent, get her to show you how to make fried apple pies. That’s important. If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Do it today.
But aside from that heartfelt digression, it really is a golden age for recipes. There’s a least one television network dedicated solely to food and dozens of others that have food shows. There are so many cookbooks coming down the pike they have their own best-seller list. For recipe collectors on a budget, Goodwill, Habitat and yard sales have tons of cookbooks for a dollar or two or even less.
And then there’s the internet. The internet is an endless treasure trove of information for recipe junkies, so much so that a new word was needed to describe all the delectable goodies ricocheting through cyberspace. Food porn has a bit of a naughty ring to it but the description is apt because most of it is alluring and addictive.
For the past year or so, food porn has more or less invaded Facebook. Gorgeous pictures of a decadent dessert or a sinful entree consisting mostly of bacon, butter and cheese will appear out of nowhere with a link to a recipe and bounce around among your friends and family. Or worse yet, there’s an insane little video of ingredients assembling themselves into a finished product with minimal instruction.
But unlike cookbooks, or cooking shows or even Grandma, these recipes, like everything else on the internet, aren’t necessarily reliable. They may have been tested. But maybe not. The glorious picture may have some relationship to the recipe attached, but maybe not.
This is the story of one of those recipes. An Upside Down Apple Cake which made the Facebook rounds about a month ago, and like the orbit of Saturn will no doubt return at some point in the future. It caught the attention of many folks.
On first glance, applying the concept of Pineapple Upside Down Cake to apples is a great idea. Especially for fall. It could provide a gentle transition to the season of pumpkin spice. The list of ingredients is not complicated. You may need to buy some apples but probably not much more than that.
Let’s start with the sauce. It needs a cup of butter. That’s two sticks of butter. Kind of excessive. Add that to the 3/4 cup in the actual cake (a stick and a half) and this bad boy has almost a pound of butter in it. It had better be good. You may not live to eat another cake.
The whole shooting match is supposed to fit in one nine-inch cake pan. That is just never going to happen so a nine-inch springform pan is procured as it has higher sides. Springform pans sometimes leak, what with the removable bottom, so it seemed like a good idea to wrap the bottom with a little tin foil.
When the sauce goes into the bottom, there’s a lot of it. An awful lot of it. The artful arrangement of apple slices, which is one of the prime attractions of this recipe, is kind of lost in it.
But the intrepid cook soldiers on.
The cake batter goes together pretty easily with one minor glitch. The vanilla in the ingredient list is never heard from again. Nowhere in the instructions is there any mention of it. So it got mixed in with the milk. The whisk is dispensed with. A hand mixer is called in and the cake batter is ready, and when poured over the apples and sauce, the springform pan is full. Or as full as it ought to be, if this thing is going to rise as it should.
Into the oven goes the whole shebang and a small prayer is offered up to the kitchen gods. Who are apparently not in the mood to help as the kitchen is soon filled with smoke. And the aroma of caramel run amok.
Copious amounts of the brown sugar and butter sauce are leaking out of the springform pan. The escaping sauce is, so far, being contained by the sheet of aluminum foil. As an oven-cleaning disaster of epic proportions looms, it becomes questionable if one sheet of foil was enough. In retrospect, two would have been better.
When the oven door is opened to check on the status of burning sugar coating the bottom of the oven in a soon-to-be rock hard mess, smoke rolls out the top and the whole house takes on the odor of a caramel apple booth that has been set on fire.
So far, the aluminum foil is averting disaster but it becomes necessary to disable all smoke alarms in the house and open several windows. A mental note is made to re-activate the smoke alarms when this experiment is concluded.
The 45-55 minute baking time is not nearly enough (which could be the fault of a poorly calibrated oven) and every time the oven is opened to check on the progress of the cake, a fresh onslaught of caramel smoke erupts from the oven but the aluminum foil holds strong. A short moment of silence is held in thanksgiving that the decision was made to purchase the heavy-duty variety. At some point, a cookie sheet that can be sacrificed is placed under the cake pan. The stress lessens but the smoke increases.
When the cake is finally out of the oven and has cooled for the requisite 15 minutes, the leaky springform pan which has made the last hour an unending misery is now much appreciated as it clicks loose from the cake and the sides fall away. All that remains is to flip the cake and peel away the pan bottom.
Much rides on this single maneuver. The entire appeal of this cake is the apples on the bottom.
It does not go well. Possibly, all that butter makes things slippery but the cake doesn’t quite stay on the platter and suffers for it. Moving the cake back onto the platter causes more suffering.
After all this, we have a case of “Taste 10, Looks 3” to paraphrase “A Chorus Line.” It is quite delicious but not so pretty.
This cake is good enough to deserve another try. It requires some changes but the good news is that by the time someone makes those changes and gets it to work well, the recipe is yours. You’ll own it.
An oblong cake pan might be a good option. It’s bigger and has high enough sides to contain everything without leakage. The apples could be arranged in rows instead of concentric circles. The trade-off would be an even tougher flip at the end. Possibly a large cast iron skillet would work.
A springform pan should only be used with two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil tightly covering the bottom and sides of the pan with a cookie sheet underneath. And only then if your smoke alarm can be easily disabled.
You might want to reduce the amount of sauce used. But as much of a headache as the sauce caused, it is really the secret of the deliciousness.
And don’t forget to ask MeMaw about those fried apple pies. Unlike food porn, MeMaw will never let you down.
Upside Down Apple Cake (via Facebook)
This recipe has some flaws. Most of them are outlined above with possible workarounds. It’s worth the trouble.
¾ cup butter, softened
1½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup milk
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. cinnamon
4 apples, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices (recommended: Granny Smith or pink lady)
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C and grease a 9” cake pan. In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in 3 eggs and milk until fully incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk until combined.
For the sauce, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and stir in the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and continue to stir for 30 seconds, or until vigorously bubbling.
Pour the sauce into the greased cake pan. Arrange the apples on top of the sauce in a circular pattern. Pour cake batter on top of apples and smooth the top of the batter. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the cake is done (the top will spring back when gently poked).
Cool for 10-15 minutes and loosen the sides of the cake by running a butter knife around the edge. Place a plate upside down on top of the pan, then invert the pan, flipping the cake onto the plate. Garnish slices with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.