Apple Upside Down Cake

Last year my father got it in his head to make an apple upside down cake. Every fall our trees are loaded with apples and dad is always looking for excuses to bake with them. Well, he tried three different recipes, and each one turned out with the same problem—they appeared to be cooked, had cooked the proper amount of time as called for by the recipe, the tester came out clean, but when he went to cut into the cake, the inside was gooey. The last time this happened, dad swore like a sailor, threw the whole cake in the sink, and vowed to never attempt an apple upside down cake again. (Ever have days like that?)

I don’t know what possessed him to try his hand at it again. Perhaps the intervening year softened the pain of the memory of three failed cakes? Or perhaps he is just easily seduced by cake recipes, and the combination of this recipe he found in an old issue of Bon Appetit and apples on sale at Whole Foods for 99 cents a pound was just too tempting to ignore. Or perhaps it had finally dawned on him (us) that the Granny Smiths we had been using to attempt similar cakes gave off too much liquid to work properly in the recipes. In any case, his perseverance has paid off with this cake. It’s terrific! We can’t wait to make it again.

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Apple Upside Down Cake Recipe

  • Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups white, granulate sugar divided (1/2 cup and 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 pounds Braeburn, Jonagold, or Golden Delicious apples (about 4 medium), peeled, quartered, cored, each quarter cut into 2 wedges
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
    • 1-9-inch cake pan with 1 1/2-inch high sides

Method

1 Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter the sides of the cake pan. Line the pan with a 10-inch round of parchment paper. The paper will come up 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan. Butter the parchment paper.

2 Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add 1/2 cup sugar and cook until sugar dissolves and mixture turns golden brown, stirring occasionally (use a wooden spoon), about 6 minutes. Add apple wedges to the pan and gently stir to distribute the caramel evenly across the apples. Cover the pan and cook until apples release their juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until apples are tender and caramel thickens and coats the apples, stirring occasionally, about 13 minutes more. Remove apples and caramel sauce and place in the prepared cake pan.

3 Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Place cornmeal in a large mixing bowl. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water over the cornmeal and stir to blend. Add 3/4 cup sugar and 6 Tbsps (3/4 stick) butter to the cornmeal mixture. Beat until well blended. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Beat in the flour, salt, baking powder mixture alternating with the milk. Pour the batter over the apples in the cake pan.

4 Bake until top is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cake in the pan for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate or dish, and remove the parchment paper. Cool for 15 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Recipe from Bon Appetit, February 2003.

44 Comments

  1. Veerniliel

    Hello Elise,

    I’m french and I love your site full of recipes that are not always that usual in my country. Now that I’ve been offered cook measures in cups (it’s not that easy to find here), I’ll be able to make more of your recipes.

    Here I recognize what we call a “Tarte tatin”, and I agree with your comment that your Dad may not have chosen the right sort of apples. I think most of French chefs advise to use Golden. My first tarte tatin using the recipe of Pierre Hermé was a success. I you want, I could give it to you ;)
    All the best with your blog :)

    Hello Veerniliel ~ it is my understanding that Tarte Tatin is made with either a puff pastry or pie crust, not a cake batter. Every tarte tatin I’ve had or made has a much higher apple to crust ratio than this recipe. This is sort of like a modified tarte tatin though, same concept, just slightly different execution. ~Elise

  2. Darby "The Dessert Diva"

    Replace the vanilla with bourbon or rum, add in some allspice, cinnamon and cloves and top it off with a homemade caramel. Dee-light-ful!

  3. melissa

    Can I use skim milk (my daughter can’t tolerate whole milk)?

    You should be able to, though I haven’t tried it. If you do, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

  4. Terry P. Stimson

    Now why would he throw perfectly good cake away? In a stainless steel fry pan or cast iron, small pat of unsalted butter (not margarine) medium heat, slice gooey cake into 1/4 or 1/2 in. slices and fry till all most crisp.

  5. Trudy

    Loved the cake and it is great with French Vanilla ice cream. Easy to make too!

  6. Loreto

    This looks, sounds, and surely tastes wonderful. I’ve been wanting to try a new cake recipe and I’m definitely going to try this one.
    Do you think I can substitute the flour (which I assume is white or all purpose) for whole wheat? Only have whole wheat at the moment.

    No idea. If you try it, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

  7. Paula

    Though I have no doubt of your father’s success, this entry took me back to one of the very best apple upside-down type cake recipes (or cake recipes in general)I’ve ever made. It’s a testament to the recipe that it’s been repeated on the web several times since 1992. Here it is on Epicurious if your dad would like to give it a whirl. It turns out beautifully on the bottom – think French bakeries in Paris – and the cake itself is beautifully light:
    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/French-Apple-Cake-2504

    Good luck and thanks for your wonderful blog!

  8. Erica

    It’s so interesting to see how recipes can vary and still come out looking and tasting wonderful! I have made this cake, but substituted a few things to make it gluten and lactose free (almond flour and yogurt), and it works!

    I hope your father will not shy away from this one again -it’s a great cake and so cool looking! Add some creme fraiche or yogurt to a slice as well.

  9. Bill

    There’s a very easy, and foolproof, apple upside-down cake in the JOY OF COOKING, first edition till the most recent one, called “French Apple Cake”. Seems to work with every fruit; I particularly like nectarine-blueberry upside-down cake made with it. The most recent edition inexplicably removed it.

  10. susan

    I made it and it came out great. I thought that it was better warm than cold.

    Even though it came out good, I was wondering if anyone else had a problem with the caramel sauce. When I added the apples, the caramel froze up. It became really hard. It eventually smoothed out but only by the very end of the 15 minutes of apple cooking time. Did I cook the caramel too long before adding the apples? But then my caramel sauce wasn’t as brown as the picture. Did I not cook it enough?

    The dessert still tasted great but I just wanted to know what I did wrong. Thanks

    Hi Susan, my father had difficulty with this part of the recipe too. We are going to try to make it again, but using one of the caramel recipes from our pineapple upside down cake. Might need to warm the apples first in the microwave, it could be that the cold slices are causing the caramel to firm up. Anyway, we are going to work on this and if we come up with a better way to do it we will update the recipe. ~Elise

  11. Eelin

    Looks divine! Can’t wait to try it.
    But on my side of the world, it’s not easy to find cornmeal. What can I use as a substitute? Would ground up cornflakes work?

    I wouldn’t try the cornflakes. If I didn’t have access to cornmeal, I might try almond flour as a substitute. Don’t know about the proportions though, don’t think you would need all of the boiling water. You might also try looking at some of the other apple cake recipes on the site. ~Elise

  12. alishajoy

    Just made this tonight. SO GOOD!! I loved the cornbreadish taste of the cake. Can’t wait to have another piece with my morning coffee. =) I will be making this again FOR SURE! We all loved it (4 year old, 7 year old, daddy and me). Thanx to your Dad for the excellent recipe.

  13. IzaCR

    I usually make it with raisins, sugar and cinamonn on the top. Delicious..

  14. alishajoy

    Susan, my caramel sauce froze up too and I figured it was runined. I almost dumped it out but then decided to just let it do it’s thing and see if it could be saved (since it smelled so delicious). In the end it worked out and mine looked as fabulous as Elise’s photo (which never happens) so I was thrilled. If anyone ever asks me for the recipe I will tell them to except some caramel issues at first and keep at it cause it all works out in the end.

  15. Glynette

    I made this cake last night. My mouth said “OMG”. I can’t remember anything more delicious!

    I did have one problem making the caramel. It started turning brown, I continued stirring. I noticed some black spots appearing. Hmm..I’m stirring constantly I know it isn’t burning. My spoon had started to melt! I had to start over-it was certainly worth losing a spoon!

    Thank you for a wonderful recipe,

    Glynette

  16. Susan

    I just made this tonight and it turned out great! It just about looks like Elise’s picture except for the beautiful plate. :) Reading the comments here, I chose to microwave the apples for a minute on high to avoid the possibility of caramel-seizing. The caramel stayed liquid and easy to work with. I liked that it wasn’t too sweet and the cornmeal gave the cake some bite to contrast with the soft apples. Thanks for the recipe!

  17. Shaya

    Mine just came out of the oven and it looks gorgeous and smells incredible.

    My caramel also turned into toffee; I suspect it’s because the apples chilled it. The toffee melted back into caramel, no harm done. But it’s also a great snack!

  18. Somia

    I made this last night and took it to work for a mid-afternoon snack – it was demolished by 10 am! Absolutely delicious. I used the Jonagold variety and really like how they held their shape. I had the same caramel seizing issues and at one point thought to dump out the sauce but it remelted just in time! This has already been requested again. Thanks for a keeper!

  19. Alex

    I just want to say that I made this cake for an afternoon tea with friends and it was fantastic! The apples were soft and caramely and the cake was very fluffy and moist. Thanks very much for a lovely recipe, will make it again!

  20. Sherri

    Hi. I made this yesterday and I can’t stop eating it. It’s delicious and I also love the cornmeal element. I cooked the sugar and butter over low heat and didn’t have any problems but my cake came out lighter in color than your picture which looks better to me. Maybe I need to brown the caramel more or add more? Also, I may add a little cinnamon next time. Even though I love the cake it was almost missing something. Maybe it’s just me. Thanks to you and your Dad! I have always been successful with all of the recipes I have tried from this site.

  21. Lori Burr

    Elise
    Just wanted to let you know that this cake is the most wonderful,delicious cake that I ever a had.The flavor was buttery and light.I would definitely make this recipe again.I loved it…

    Thank-you
    Lori Burr

  22. SeeDbee

    Made the cake yesterday. A couple of notes. First I forgot to add the milk to the mixture and I don’t think it’s that necessary as the cake came out perfect.

    I had similar issues with the carmelization issues. On my third try I used brown sugar instead of white, and added a tablespoon of water and this did the trick to get the sugar and butter to mix rather than create something similar to peanut brittle.

  23. Holly

    I saw this on your website and showed my husband and he BEGGED me to go to the store to get apples to make this. It was delicious. It was pretty time consuming to make but definately worth the effort. I was having some trouble at first making the caramel sauce, it kept turning into little balls in the pan. But i soon realized on the second try that the pan had to be hot hot in order for it to remain sauce-like. Awesome recipe.

  24. Scott

    I, too, had problems with the caramel sauce.
    I think the solution is to precook the apples partially in some butter. Remove them, make the caramel sauce, and toss the apples back in and continue.
    Even though I had some trouble, it still came out in the end, and was enjoyed by all.

  25. Melinda

    I made this cake a couple of days ago. I think I burnt the carmel a little (definately that distinctive taste), but it still tastes all right. I did not use a cake pan, I did the entire thing in a cast iron skillet. The cake flipped out just fine (my skillets are really well seasoned too). I think a little cinnamon and nutmeg would make this recipie “pop” for me.

  26. Sunny

    I am considering making this cake for company this weekend. My concerns are the carmelization and the type of apple. Now I have always used granny smith in my apple pies with success. You don’t mention these. Should I use or not?
    Also I have stone ground cornmeal. Is this the same or do I go and buy reg. cornmeal?
    What is your tip for carmelizing? I noticed people have had trouble with it and I have never done it. Help…Please. Thanks.
    Sunny

  27. Sunny

    Oops: I forgot one more question. If I make this a day ahead would you recommend that I refrigerate it or can it be left covered on a cake stand?
    Sorry.
    thanks.
    Sunny

  28. Bea

    I made this cake tonight and it is delicious and nice and light, not to mention yummy with ice-cream! I may have added a little extra butter than specified, to the caramel sauce and it melted down and browned just fine. I thought it would be too runny after I added the apples ( Ambrosias),but the sauce thickened up after 10 minutes or so of being on low heat. I then added a splash of Appleton Spiced rum and a sprinkle of cinnamon… Yum Yum! I was skeptical because the batter looked fairly runny. ( I used soy milk if that made any difference) In the end ,it cooked perfectly in 35 minutes in my convection oven. I used parchment paper in a 10 ” springform pan,and it all popped out beautifully. Thank-you for the perfect recipe!

  29. Janet

    I just tried this recipe. The flavors are just right (not too sweet). However, I had trouble melting the sugar in the butter. After about 4-5 minutes it became hard candy! So I started again and melted the butter, sauteed the apples in it, then added the sugar at the end. This worked fine.
    Thanks for your recipes and beautiful photography, I enjoy your blog very much.

  30. Liitis

    Hi im trying this recipe to for weekend, yesterdays asparagus with mint and lime with lemon chicken where perfect :)
    But back to thing of cornmeal, in europe you don’t have that in same name :) But, i was suprised after little searching for my cajuncookbooks and internet, it seems that polenta is basically the same, and i find recipes in finnish ( im from Finland) wich states to use of polenta for cornbread. Hope this helps.
    Thanks a lot for great recipes :)

  31. Meena

    Hi Elise,

    I have been an ardent fan of your website. I have been baking now for 2 years and any recipe from your website has been a sure hit. I had heaps of apples which had to be used, begging the family to eat it before they all went rotten is tiresome. I was sure I would find something here and I did. I began keenly putting the recipe together- and then ran into trouble when I wasn’t sure if cornmeal was called corn flour in our part of the world. Did plenty of googling and used cornflour.Then when you said use boiling water to the cornmeal , I did and this got all lumpy, so then I dissolved it in less than 1/4 the quantity of water and then added the rest as boiling water. Then to make sure the whole thing was the right consistency heated the bowl for a few minutes, sounds very complicating doesn’t it,but it seemed alright .The consistency was so unlike a cake or a muffin, hesitantly I poured it into the cake tin and popped it in to bake- I just had to see for myself what I might have done wrong, so I let it bake. When done I cut the cake and Voila I had this lovely cake- my 2 and half year piped ‘Cake mama’ – gave him. The fussy eater enjoyed this . THANKYOU Elise, from the bottom of my heart for this website . I can see you have put in lots of love in creating this website. If there is any way i can help you diversify I would be more than happy to give you some recipes of mine. Thankyou once again.

  32. Bob McNatt

    I made this cake using skim milk and it turned out fine. I used golden delicious apples. This cake turned out just like the picture, a first for me.

  33. Kari

    Hello! I have tried several of your recipes, all have been successful. I just finished making this upside down apple cake. It looks delicious. I tried to arrange the apple slices in kind of a ring pattern. I can’t wait until my family comes home to try it. Thanks again!

  34. Rona

    I just found this recipe and wanted to try it with some Jonagolds my parents picked. My question is if I need parchment paper or if there is a substitute? I’m 39 weeks pregnant and trying to minimize trips to the grocery store, especially for something I won’t use regularly. Thanks!

    Parchment paper will help keep the cake from sticking when you invert it. You can go without it, but then you should use a stick-free pan and butter it generously. Even then, you may have some issues with sticking. ~Elise

  35. Ronnie

    The picture convinced me to try the recipe and it came out perfect. I used 2% milk and added about a tsp more butter to the batter to compensate. Some of the caramel hardened up into a big lump when I put the apples in but it dissolved again shortly afterward (for people having trouble raise the heat and try using a stainless steel pan with an aluminum base). Thanks for the recipe.

  36. hev

    Yes this is a great cake. It came out super in my heavy based, non-stick wok, looked like a big dome of apples.
    I also tried it using blueberries and peaches instead of the apples both were really good.

  37. Sarah

    I have been trying to make apple upside cake for a couple of years, only to have the results be overcooked on the outside, raw and gooey in the inside (because of the raw apples giving juices during the baking process) that I had almost given up on this type of cake completely. However, after trying this recipe and seeing the amazing results: light, crisp and buttery cake, caramelized apple topping, and most importantly of all, no half-baked batter, I am over the moon. Thank you for providing this WONDERFUL recipe.

  38. Suzie

    I made this as mini cakes. They turned out beautiful. My only complaint is that it was hard to figure out what to put them in. I couldn’t cook them in paper liners, since I wouldn’t be able to get them upside down. I ended up flattening out the muffin liners and placing them on that. Worked good enough.

  39. Marti

    The cake looks wonderful and I’m sure it is… but I know if I make it I will eat it and I am trying to drop some weight. I just wanted to pass along a tip I learned along the way that ‘cured’ the problem of my having gooey cake beneath the apples in my apple coffee cake, etc. I often throw together an upside down apple coffee cake using Hodson Mill’s whole wheat baking mix called “InstaBake”. I use whatever type apples I have, but I always had the problem with the cake being ‘gooey’ or ‘raw’ in the center area beneath the apples, no matter what type I used. One day in frustration– after I sliced into one and it was still raw, I just stuck the coffee cake into the microwave (on its serving plate) and microwaved it–uncovered– on high for 1 minute. I let it cool, and was delighted to see that it was now perfectly ‘cooked’. From that time on, as soon as I invert my apple coffee cakes onto their serving plate, I immediately microwave the freshly baked cake for one minute on high. I’ve never had it to fail–so perhaps it will work for yours, too, on those occasions you want to throw out the cake!

    Great idea, thanks Marti! ~Elise

  40. Chefcanada

    For anybody having a caramel issue try this.
    Use 1/3 cup clarified butter, & 1 cup of brown sugar. Once it starts coming together either add your apples, or if desired to keep a little saucier, add a bit of 35% cream. I’ve been using this for upside down cakes & caramel sauce for a year with 100% sucess.

    For granny smiths, i’ve sauteed them in a pan with some clarified butter until they get a bit of color on both sides, add brown sugar until it’s a caramel consistancy, a little cream at the end to sauce it up, & use that for a base for the upside down cake. A sour cream coffee cake recipe works best.

  41. Heidi S.

    I made this cake today and it turned out wonderfully!! I used fuji (sp?) apples and it was AMAZING. Great alternative to the pineapple upside down cake. Thank you Pioneer Woman for the suggestion!!!

  42. Edith Pearl

    I made this yesterday to bring to a brunch and was quite sad to only get one piece. I love this recipe and will absolutely use again and again, with other fruits as they come into season. I made it exactly as the recipe directed with two small additions, one of a pinch of salt to the caramel, and another of a pinch of crushed lavender that I added to the flour mixture. The cake was moist, dense and had a great texture from the cornmeal. The cake was devoured and someone even scraped the crumbs off of the serving plate, which I had secretly hoped to do myself.

  43. Julie

    Great looking and, more importantly, great tasting cake! I used skim milk, but the cake was still delicious – nice and moist. I followed the rest of the recipe exactly, and it came out beautifully. Thanks for the recipe!

  44. Tracy

    I made this cake and it was delicious! I used canola oil in place of the butter and it came out really moist and delicious. I kept the butter in the caramel portion.

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