Apple Upside Down Cake


Upside Down Apple Cake with caramel sauce and apple wedges in a flour cornmeal batter.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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?)

Apple Upside Down Cake

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.

Apple Upside Down Cake Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings


  • 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

Special equipment needed:

  • 1-9-inch cake pan with 1 1/2-inch high sides


1 Preheat the oven and prep the cake pan: 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 Make the caramel sauce base: 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.

3 Add the apple wedges and cook in the caramel sauce: 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.

4 Remove apples and caramel sauce and spread evenly in the prepared cake pan.

5 Make the batter: 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.

6 Bake: Bake at 350°F 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.

Showing 4 of 45 Comments / Reviews

  • Lauren

    Ugh. I just made hard caramel on accident again. I am looking forward to an updated recipe… I can’t figure out how to get the apples in the sauce without it seizing up!

  • Spalva

    Made this yesterday and loved it — it’s gone already! Just recommended it to Alicia Paulson over on Posie Gets Cozy. I will definitely return to this recipe over and over this year. I like it much more than my usual tarte tatin. Good job, dad!

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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

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