Serves 8 to 10
I’ve always had a fondness for upside-down cakes; my grandmother used to make a good one with cherries in the center of pineapple rings. I suppose as a kid I was intrigued that what was on the bottom of the pan turned out to be on the top. So I make upside-down cakes with all sorts of different toppings. I also like that they are baked in an iron skillet. Both apples and pears are a great combination with sage. This is a simple, moist, not-too-sweet, eat-any-time-of-day kind of cake. Rosemary or savory also would work in this recipe. I use a 10-inch skillet; if you use a 9- or 11-inch skillet, the baking time will vary by 5 to 10 minutes.
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
• 2 large tart apples, cored, peeled, sliced thin and tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 12 to 15 fresh sage leaves
• 2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 extra-large eggs
• 1 1/2 cups nonfat buttermilk
• About 8 sage leaves, stacked and cut crosswise into very thin chiffonade (about 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh)
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved; it should look like thick chocolate syrup. Continue to cook until the mixture just starts to bubble, and then remove promptly from heat.
Arrange apple slices and whole sage leaves close together in the skillet on top of butter and sugar. Arrange extra apple slices around the sides of the skillet. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg.
In a mixing bowl, beat softened butter, add sugar and blend well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add buttermilk and mix until blended.
Add dry ingredients and sage chiffonade to the mixing bowl; beat until batter is just mixed smooth, not overworked. Pour batter over apples in the skillet.
Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for about 25 minutes more. The cake is done when it is golden brown, the edges pull slightly from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and carefully run a metal spatula around the edges. Place a cake plate over the skillet and carefully turn the cake out onto the plate. It should come out easily; rearrange any apple slices or sage leaves if they get out of place. If there is any excess topping in the skillet, scrape it onto the cake. Let cake cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. It is good served slightly warm or at room temperature. It is delicious plain, accompanied with lightly whipped cream or served with vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.
Susan Belsinger is a culinary herbalist who loves playing with food. She delights in kitchen alchemy — the blending of harmonious seasonal foods, herbs and spices.
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