Happy Birthday Cakes: Sage and Apple Upside-Down Cake

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<em>Serves 8 to 10</em>
<p>A sheet cake is tasty, travels well, and is easily cut into squares to serve a crowd.</p>
<p>As a child watching my grandmother make upside-down cake, I loved seeing how the pineapple rings and cherries that were originally on the bottom of the pan ended up on top of the cake. Now I make upside-down cakes with many different toppings. This one is a simple, moist, not-too-sweet, eat-any-time-of-day cake. Rosemary or savory can substitute for sage if you like. I use a 10-inch cast-iron skillet; if yours is 9 or 11 inches, the cake will be thicker or thinner, and baking times will vary by 5 to 10 minutes.</p>
<p>• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter<br />
• 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar<br />
• 2 large tart apples, cored, peeled, thinly sliced, and tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice<br />
• 12 to 15 fresh sage leaves<br />
• 2 1/4 cups unbleached flour<br />
• 1/2 teaspoon salt<br />
• 2 teaspoons baking powder<br />
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda<br />
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg<br />
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened<br />
• 1 cup sugar<br />
• 3 extra-large eggs<br />
• 1 1/2 cups nonfat buttermilk<br />
• 8 fresh sage leaves, stacked and thinly sliced crosswise</p>
<p>1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the brown sugar until it is dissolved; it should look like thick chocolate syrup. When the mixture just starts to bubble, remove the pan from the heat.</p>
<p>2. Arrange the apple slices and whole sage leaves close together in a decorative pattern in the skillet on the butter and sugar. Arrange additional apple slices around the sides of the skillet.</p>
<p>3. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg together and set aside.</p>
<p>4. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with an electric mixer for a minute. Add the sugar and beat until well mixed, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the buttermilk and mix until blended.</p>
<p>5. Add the dry ingredients and sliced sage leaves and beat until just mixed, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour the batter into the skillet.</p>
<p>6. Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for 25 minutes longer, or until the top is golden brown, a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cake starts to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan.</p>
<p>7. Remove the cake from the oven and run a metal spatula around the edges. Place a cake plate over the skillet and turn the cake out onto it. Rearrange any apple slices or sage leaves that are out of place. Let the cake cool for at least 20 minutes; serve slightly warm or at room temperature.</p>
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<em>Susan Belsinger, who lives with her family in Brookeville, Maryland, has been a frequent contributor to</em> The Herb Companion <em>for many years. She is the author, with Thomas DeBaggio, of</em> Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide <em>(1996) and several other books from Interweave Press</em>.

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<strong>Happy Birthday Cakes</strong>

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