Upside down cakes have got to be one of the greatest categories of baked goods. I mean, what is not to like about a cake that has a caramel-like crust, tender fruit and a moist base, made, baked and served in less than an hour.
It is strange to me, but until recently I never thought there were possibilities beyond a pineapple upside down cake. What a world of deliciousness I have been missing!!! I mean, I do love a good pineapple upside downer, but there are so many other cakes to be eaten! I love this apple upside down cake more than words can say, and I think pear would be equally delicious. I recently saw a banana version somewhere - which I'm dying to try - and this lemon cake is just heavenly. Heavenly!
I made this a few days ago for my boys, and it is perhaps their favorite thing I've ever baked. They didn't like the lemons on top - granted, they are rather tart - and took them off, but I love those lemons. With baking they become tender, chewy, and soaked with (palm) sugar and butter, turning them into a sort of heightened candied lemon peel that I would gladly eat sans cake.
The cake itself, however, is fantastic and not to be skipped over. Incredibly moist, fluffy crumb, lemony. I wasn't sure about the flavors of palm sugar and lemon together, but I wanted my kids to have a treat so I went ahead with it. I'm so glad I did, because the deep, rich palm sugar pairs beautifully with the tangy, light, zippy lemon. If you've never had palm sugar, it's worth seeking out (despite its hefty price tag), because it really adds an extra dimension to baking, plus it has a glycemic index of only 35. I have an exciting palm-sugar related announcement that I'll be telling you about soon. I would like to figure out how to make a cake that had a larger portion of the crunchy sugary edges that upside down cakes naturally have - perhaps an upside down cake minus any fruit? Hmm, I may have to try this out... Or a smaller pan... Or both! I'll let you know how it turns out.
Lemon Upside Down Cake
adapted from Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham
2 medium lemons
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened, divided
1 1/4 cup palm sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350. Wash lemons, cut ends off, and slice as thinly as possible - 1/8" thick or less. Discard seeds. In a 10" cast iron (or other) skillet, melt 1/4 cup of butter with 1/4 cup palm sugar, stirring until palm sugar is dissolved. When mixture begins to boil, arrange lemon slices in an attractive pattern (though it may be disrupted by the batter) and continue to boil for one minute once the lemons are all in place. You don't need to worry about using all of the slices you cut, but the entire bottom of the pan should be covered - it is okay if they overlap. After one minute, remove skillet from heat and set aside while you prepare the batter. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 1/2 cup butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the palm sugar (1 cup) and lemon zest and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well combined. Stir in vanilla. With mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the milk, stirring each time until just combined. Repeat with remaining flour and milk. Spoon batter over lemons in skillet, and smooth as evenly as you can. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until top of cake is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in skillet, then invert onto a heat-proof plate/cake stand. If you let the cake cool completely, it is much easier to cut through the lemon slices using a very thin serrated knife. It is delicious warm, however, so serve it as you will.