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Skip the pineapples to make this upside-down peach cake


When pressed to proclaim my favorite dessert, I always say peach pie.

Peaches are a beloved fruit, but let’s be honest — any fruit in its peak stage of ripeness could be a contender for my very favorite thing in the whole world, after my kids and my grandma.

My grandmother, who turned 86 this year, almost always surprises me with a peach pie when the boys and I return to the Ozarks for a summertime visit. By her own account, she’s slowing down these days. Fewer pies, fewer goulashes — a dish she makes anytime someone passes away, even though she’s had to say goodbye to too many friends in the past few years.

When I first took over this food section from Kitty Crider in 2008, my grandma was still making the occasional trip here, and that summer, we made a peach pie together in the tiny apartment where my ex-husband and I were living with our then 1-year-old. She usually doesn’t measure many ingredients when baking, and we ended up piecing together that pie crust, whose recipe I asked her to measure so I could put it in the paper for one of my first columns.

It wasn’t perfect, but we ate it anyway.

So much has changed in the eight years since. I bought a house she might not get to see. I had another baby, who is now a kindergartner but can still crawl into her lap while she sits in her recliner in the house she’s lived in since the 1950s and now shares with my parents. The oldest is now scrambling his own eggs and helping us keep track of how many days until our next Missouri trip this month.

I’ve already told her that this time, instead of her making me a peach pie, I’m making her an upside-down peach cake, a recipe I found on the Taste of Home website last month and that I’ve decided is our best Year of Baking project so far.

Pineapple upside-down cake is the dominant inverted fruit dessert in America, but I’ve never quite understood why. Baked pineapple is only OK. The pineapple rings are usually too thick, and the cake often gets soggy because they are so moist. And the little cherries in the middle that are just a little too red? I’ll pass.

But upside-down peach cake? Despite a not-so-appetizing picture on the website, I was curious. Now that semi-cling and freestone peaches are nearing their peak, I picked up some soft, fragrant specimens from the store the other day to see how they would fare in a cake like this.

The batter came together easily. One egg, one stick of butter. A little bit of milk. Regular old flour, sugar and baking powder. The peaches, which I decided not to peel (see tips below), sat comfortably in a shallow pool of brown sugar and melted butter.

I spooned over the batter, spreading it as best I could toward the edges without disturbing the peach slices. After 40 minutes in the oven, a toothpick came out clean, and so did the cake. I ran a knife around the outside of the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan. After letting the cake cool for about 10 minutes, I wore a pot holder on my right hand, placed a plate on top of the cake pan and held it firmly with my left, and used my tortilla-flipping skills acquired in Spain to invert the cake onto a plate. It only look a little jiggle for the cake, including the peaches on top, to release from the pan.

That little cake went with me to a potluck, where I served it to a crowd of folks who were as impressed as I was at how satisfying such a simple cake could be. A few days later, I made another for the newsroom and the video that accompanies this story online and received the same response.

A few tips to keep in mind when you make this for any kind of gathering this summer, from a big backyard barbecue to a quiet moment at the dining room table with your favorite person in the world.

  • This upside-down cake would be excellent with all kinds of stone fruit, including plums, nectarines and cherries. Cut the smaller ones in half and the larger ones into quarters or eighths.
  • You don’t have to peel the peaches. No, really — don’t worry about it. The skins soften up enough while the cake bakes that I don’t think it’s worth the effort. You can blanch the peaches in boiling water and then an ice bath to slide off the skins, but I find that to be way too much work and think that dropping the peaches in boiling water actually causes them to lose some of their flavor. Plus, fruit skins are packed with nutrients and fiber, making this passable for breakfast.
  • Using room temperature eggs is a good baking practice to get into, and don’t try to cream the sugar and the butter if the butter isn’t soft.
  • You can soften the butter in the microwave in 5-second intervals, but watch it closely so it doesn’t melt.
  • Prepare the pan with the brown sugar, butter and peaches after you’ve made the batter. The first time I made this cake, I prepared the peaches first, and they sat for too long in the butter and brown sugar and were a little more stuck when I inverted the pan. When I made the cake and placed the peaches just before adding the batter, the fruit didn’t stick at all and looked nicer after the flip.
  • Feel free to mix in a little cinnamon with the brown sugar to deepen the flavor of the peaches in the topping. Also, some of you might prefer almond extract to the vanilla, but you could also use coconut or lemon for variety.

Upside-Down Peach Cake

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened and divided

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 cups sliced fresh peaches (about 2 peaches)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl, use a handheld or standup mixer to cream together 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and the granulated sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and combine.

Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the creamed butter and sugar, mixing well after each addition. Set bowl aside and prepare the pan.

Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter and pour into an ungreased 9-inch round baking pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Arrange peach slices in a single layer over the melted butter and brown sugar.

Spoon the batter over the peaches, spreading it as much as you can toward the edge of the pan. The batter will spread as the cake bakes.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate. Serve warm. Serves 8 to 10.

— Adapted from a Taste of Home recipe



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