My mother is a loving, smart, funny, ambitious, beautiful woman. She’s a also a pretty fantastic cook who has inspired me to be more adventurous over the years with trying new recipes. Her favorite holiday also happens to be Thanksgiving.
So when the holiday rolls around, and we’re planning to spend it with my side of the family, mom and I spend days cooking together. I help her with a lot of the savory dishes, and she designates me the baker. I’m in charge of all desserts, and she gives me carte blanche in creating the menu. Her only ask is that cake appears somewhere. This works for us.
My husband and I are hosting my family here in the NYC area, and I’ve been tweaking the entire menu for weeks. At one point, seven (7!) desserts were on the menu. Overkill, I know. I’ve whittled it down to four: sweet potato pie, chocolate cheesecake (provided by my chef friend), shortbread with lemon curd, and cranberry upside down cake.
The latter is new to the mix. I love cranberries, and I love cake, but I’ve never liked a single upside down cake. Ever. Typically they are too saccharine. I mean, pineapple? We take what is likely the sweetest fruit on the planet and add a cup of brown sugar to it? My teeth feel like they are rotting just thinking about it. But then I found an intriguing version with cranberries on New York Times Cooking. I thought cranberries could change my mind because we need the sugar to balance the extreme tartness of the fruit. Add a rich, buttery cake, and it sounded too interesting to pass up. So I saved it and finally got around to testing it last night to see if it meets the high bar we have for Thanksgiving desserts. It does.
Make this, people. Immediately. I mean, I don’t even like yellow cake typically (my mantra about cake is “if it’s not chocolate, why bother?”). But oh my goodness, it’s so delicious and can I eat the whole thing please. Kthanks. Plus, aside from the fresh cranberries, you likely have all the ingredients on hand.
So I present, with no tweaks, the amazing recipe. The original is actually from Pulitzer winner, Alice Waters. You won’t regret making this.
For the topping:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
9 ounces (2 2/3 cups) fresh cranberries
¼ cup fresh orange juice
For the batter:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
½ cup whole milk
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (I used a half-teaspoon of lemon juice.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare topping: Put butter and brown sugar in a 9-inch round cake pan, and put it in the oven. As the sugar dissolves, stir to distribute the mixture evenly over the pan. When the sugar starts to caramelize, remove pan from the oven and allow to cool.
In a small bowl, combine cranberries and orange juice. Toss to coat berries well. Spread berries evenly in pan, and sprinkle with any juice remaining in bowl. Set pan aside, and prepare the cake batter.
To prepare batter: In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter with sugar until pale, light and fluffy. Add vanilla, and beat in egg yolks one at a time, scraping bowl once or twice. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, ending with dry ingredients. Set batter aside.
Using electric mixer, whisk egg whites with cream of tartar just until whites are stiff enough to hold a slight peak. Fold whites into batter 1/3 at a time. Spoon batter into prepared pan, and spread it evenly over cranberries. Bake until top is browned and cake pulls away slightly from edges of pan, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cake cool for 15 minutes before turning onto cake plate. Serve with slightly sweetened whipped cream, flavored, if desired, with orange liqueur.