Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake
It's October so we need to start talking about pumpkins. First, I never liked pumpkin when I was growing up. We didn't really eat it when I was growing up as you can imagine it's not a traditional Filipino food. Second, I based my dislike of pumpkin solely on pumpkin pie which is what I thought was the only thing you could do with pumpkin. It sounded good when you read about it in cozy Little House on the Prairie-type books. But the reality of it was different and I didn't (and still don't) like pumpkin pie - maybe because the first couple I tried weren't that good. I didn't like the texture and it seemed overspiced. But third and most importantly, I was wrong about pumpkin. You can do more with it than put it in a traditional pumpkin pie. And in the right recipe, it's fabulous.

My eyes - and taste buds - were first opened when I attended a Sur La Table cooking class in Los Gatos, CA where Emily Luchetti, the former pastry chef of Stars, gave a cooking demonstration of recipes from her then-newly published cookbook, A Passion for Desserts. She made this recipe for Pumpkin Upside Down Cake that was simply delicious. You make a caramel sauce, pour it in the bottom of the baking pan, add toasted pecans and cranberries, cover it all with a pumpkin cake batter, bake it then flip it over when you take it out of the oven. Delicious. Note the exception here from my previously stated bias about nuts. I don't normally like nuts with cakes unless they're baked on top and don't get into the cake itself. Technically these are baked on the bottom but they end up on top. Regardless, toast the nuts first to bring out their flavor. Ironically, the caramel, which is a liquid that you'd think would soften the nuts, actually help them retain a somewhat crisp texture when the cake is cooled. And that makes everything okay.

My other bias is against using fruit or berries in desserts. I don't even normally like cranberries and you won't find jellied cranberries on my plate at Thanksgiving. But cranberries are perfect with this cake as they provide a tart contrast to the sweetness of the caramel and the cake. Use raw ones and they'll soften and cook just right when the cake is baked. I may have a lot of odd or rigid preferences in certain things when it comes to baking but I'm happy to find recipes that prove to be the exception. It makes me believe I could probably like many things, if I could just find the right combination for them in baking.

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups cranberries
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil. In another bowl, sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.
5. Bake the cake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together, then remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.
6. Let cool completely before serving.

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