A Fourth of July backyard or front porch cookout is not complete without dessert, especially one that evokes a piece of Americana. Cherry pie is a classic Fourth potluck treat and so is an upside-down cake. One way to salute both of them is to make a cherry upside-down cake.
We are talking about a butter cake that is tender and topped with fresh plump cherries — not those preserved and sweetened maraschino ones from the jar.
Upside-down cakes are practically synonymous with pineapple, but they don’t have to be made with the canned fruit at this time of the year. Put tradition aside and instead consider cherries. Seasonal cherries can be bracingly sweet or tart with a few duds in between. The sweet ones are an elegant snack to be eaten out of hand. The sour ones, with softer skins, are high in organic acids known as phenols and better for baking as they can stand up to heat and can hang on to their flavor.
However, it’s important to note that even if the cherries hold their shape to heat in baked goods, they do release a lot of moisture, so the cake could become soggy if it sits for a few hours. To avoid that, make sure that the cake batter is thicker when using fresh fruits than, say, dried ones, says Arbil Lopez, pastry chef at Cafe Eighteen in Pittsburgh. Also, she advises to use less sugar in the batter as sugar, too, releases moisture.
To begin with, grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan well and layer it with a butter-brown sugar mixture that will hold the cherries in place when the sugar caramelizes and the cake cools. Arrange pitted cherries neatly in rows, with the pitted side facing down, over the mixture. Finally, scoop the thick cake batter in big dollops and drop them over the fruits. Then gently spread the batter with a spatula so as not to dislocate the cherries from their spot.
For a perfect flip, cool the cake after it’s taken out of the oven and run a spatula or thin butter knife between the cake and the pan. Patience is key, so don’t bang on the pan after it is inverted; the cake will break.
Carefully remove the pan and you will have a beautiful-looking cherry-studded upside-down cake staring back at you.
— Adapted from “American Cake” by Anne Byrn (September 2016; Rodale Books)