Unfinished Business: Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

-A simple cake made for Fall and Winter.-

I looked at my old list and grumbled to myself. Two resolutions for 2010 were still unchecked and with only a few hours left there just wasn't any way to finish them up. "How could I have let this happen?" I moaned to myself in dissatisfaction.

I always prided myself on being so diligent in actually accomplishing my resolutions. I never picked anything outlandish; say lose 30 pounds in a week or learn to fluently speak Korean by Spring. My lists are practical. In college, 2001, I made the resolution to learn to do do the splits and preform a back flip. Twelve months later after joining the gymnastics club I had those both pinned down as well as a sharp layout with a half-turn that I could fight crime with given a portable trampoline and a domino mask. When I stated I would learn how to make puff pastry and Italian and Swiss buttercream this past year, damn it, I went to an Advanced Pastry class got it down. Plus, I came away with basic sugar sculpture, too! Bonus!

I feel that creating a to-do list for the year is important. It gives you goals to strive towards. Ideals to obtain and perfect. Tasks to keep you in motion because it is far too easy to slip into an idle state. They encourage self-growth and exploration.

Still, this year, I didn't knock out my entire resolution list. Mind you, it wasn't like I was kicking the dirt. I was active. Probably too active. Plus, I had mitigating circumstances. The fire killed a few months of the year. The internship at Grange surely took away a month of time to really check anything off. Let's not even mention the bevy of extra writing jobs I took on. I was busy! I have valid excuses.

Or so I tell myself. My list really was doable:
  • Learn to make macarons.
  • Learn to make puff pastry.
  • Learn to make beef bourguignon.
  • Vacation outside the country.
  • Do a baking internship.
  • Learn to read tea leaves, really, this time.
  • Get some really sick furniture to replace the stuff lost after fire.
  • Make Dorie's cranberry upside-down cake
Didn't get them all, but still not bad. Mexico was a blast, but since the trip was planned before 2010 even started, well, that one was kind of cheating. I was giving myself one to get me going. Still, I can check it off, right?

-Like artisan tilework made from cranberries and pecans.-

The baking internship? Man, I busted my hump at Grange and came away with an entirely new skill set and a new found respect for the restaurant and baking industries. This one took planning, sacrifice, and determination. I'm a better man for it. Check.

Yes, I did learn to read tea leaves. Tasseography is something I have dabbled with simply out of curiosity over the years. I'm not the superstitious lot in the slightest but I saw the concept of reading tea leaves as something akin to tai-chi or yoga but without the spandex and sweating at five in the morning. As it is, I prefer to sleep in and wake up late to a cup of tea. If I can caffinate and center myself at the same time then I'm good to go.

As for the furniture, well, after I got my insurance check from the fire West Elm and Scandinavian Designs were my personal candy stores. Seriously, the cream micro-suede chair in my living room is boss. I don't even care if white furniture is a pain to clean. I love it.

But macarons and the darn bourguignon... I admit. I could have done these had I taken the time to find time. These were potential posts or writing assignments. The bourguignon could have been a simple dinner party dish. The macarons a treat for a birthday or Christmas! Alas, things just get away sometimes.

The last one on the list though, that cranberry upside-down cake, is the one I want to talk about.

-A bit of orange bitters gives this cake a kick.-

You've probably heard the spiel from other bakers. I love Dorie. When I got to meet her at BlogHer and was able to get advice, gossip, and drink with her I fell in love with her even more. Dorie is the type of person all people should strive to be: warm, giving, energetic, sage, and absolutely hilarious.

Her recipes are also spot-on. Everything I've ever tried of hers just seems to come out perfectly. When I looked through her Baking cookbook, a 2009 Christmas gift from Elise, the cranberry upside-down cake caught my eye. As a total cranberry crazy I decided that I wanted to make that for Christmas dinner at the end of the year.

Upside-down cranberry cake? Check.

The cake is absolutely stunning. Its mosaic tile appearance in moody burgundy and bright ruby hues makes for a cake that impresses everyone you serve it to. I used pecans instead of walnuts as the recipe indicated simply because it was what I had on hand, but the textural result was the same. The pecans added a toothsome crunch between the soft cake and juicy cranberries. I added a bit of orange bitters to the batter for a little more depth and dimension; a bittersweet suite in the cake. All and all, it was a resounding success of a New Year's resolution and a tasteful way to wrap up 2010.

-Dorie is just so damn adorable. She's like the Judy Garland for gay bakers.-

The thing is, many people see resolutions as silly things that don't have any meaning or purpose. Usually these are the people who pay $400 for a gym membership and stop using it come March. You have to take the time to develop goals and resolutions that have real purpose in your life. Not only that but you have to make a plan on how you will address your resolutions. Create a timetable and mini-goals for achieving them and keep them practical. Whether it's a cake or climbing a mountain, you can do it.

So then, what does 2011 hold for me? Well, here are my resolutions:
  • Learn to play mahjong.
  • Learn to make beef bourguignon.
  • Learn to make macarons.
  • Finish the thesis.
  • Burn a copy of the finished thesis out of spite.
  • Start that project with Stephanie.
  • Perfect making crepes.
If you haven't made your own list yet be sure to get started. Right now. Write them on the nearest scrap of paper and tape it to your wall. Feel free to write one or two in the comments as I would love to hear them, too.

If you're writing them now or already made your resolutions I encourage you to add this cake. It's easy to prepare, is a perky dish to brighten up the darker months, and is destined to become part of your regular baking repertoire. A perfect resolution for 2011.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's, Baking

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 cups cranberries - fresh or frozen
2 eggs
1 teaspoon orange bitters
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup apricot jelly

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

2. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring until it comes to a boil. Pour into a 8x2-inch circular pan. Scatter nuts and cranberries into the pan and press into place.

3. Beat butter on medium speed in a stand mixer for 3 minutes. Add the rest of the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for 30 seconds each and being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom. Add the bitters and mix in for 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low and add 1/2 the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated, Add the milk and mix in. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Pour batter over cranberries and level the top.

4. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove it from the oven and run a kinfe around the sides. Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate. If some of the cranberries or pecans stick to the pan scrape them out and place them on the cake.

5. Warm the jelly on the stovetop and brush onto the cake. Serve.


  1. You may want to go all "Julia Child" with the bourguignon, but I love Ina Garten's recipe; it's delicious as is but also easy to adjust the ingredients to your own taste.

  2. Just wanted to drop a note and say I love your writing. I've been following your blog for 3 years (definitely the only one to hold my interest that long).

    My 2011 resolutions also include macarons (I've been procrastinating by compiling endless recipes and kitchen tools), finishing my masters degree and racing my second triathlon this spring, hopefully bettering my time.

    Thanks for sharing your stories and recipes with us, they light up my morning.

    - Caitlin

  3. Do you think moving out of the country is too big a resolution to put on my list? Hahaha...looks like I'm going to break another one. :(

  4. I agree Ina's bourguignon makes me look amazing everytime!!!!

  5. Great picture of Dorie and you. Love it!

    Crazy coincidence: I just watched the premier episode of Julia Child's "The French Chef" last night, which is all about Boeuf Bourguignon, and in the middle of it I (very randomly) got this sudden urge to make crepes for breakfast this weekend, and I haven't made, eaten, or thought about crepes for 12 years! How random is it that this morning you should mention both?
    Looking forward to reading all about it! Good luck with the resolutions/to-do list, and a very Happy New Year to you!

  6. Caitlin - Thanks so much for following all this time! I am so glad you enjoy the blog and took the time to tell me. Good luck on that MA degree, it's a bitch. I hear it's worth it though, or so the stories say.

  7. Garrett,

    I like this cranberry upside down cake. I don't keep any resolutions as most of the time it is not easy follow. I am also with you learning to make macrons if possible this year. Happy new year to you.

  8. Looks delicious, but where does the rest of the butter go?, you have 6 Tbsps in the sugar sauce but I don't see the rest, I don't have quite that much butter in my house or orange bitters, but I think I could make this out of my kitchen otherwise, adding it to my long list of recipes o try!

  9. First time: Sorry! You beat the rest before adding the sugar. Recipe now reflects this.

  10. Garrett,

    Thanks for the good luck wishes. I'm so close to done I can taste it. Unfortunately right now all it tastes like debt...

    Made my first attempt at macarons this morning using Tartlette's recipe. They look beautiful but are completely hallow. Le sigh. Ah well, at least I've begun the quest :)

    - Caitlin

  11. Look at that colour ! Beautiful photo, will definately give this a try.

  12. this looks like it would more than hit the spot right now. Absolutely fabulous.

  13. I posted this on my FB page because of the conmmon sense approach to New Years resolutions! The cranberry upside-down cake is a definite bonus ;)

  14. Next on my to try list...

    Plus I love you for calling Dorie the Judy of Baking. Too true, too true.

  15. You have done a lot. Accomplished a lot! Me? I did not even bothered with a list because I know I'm not going to do them anyway. But you are right. Whether you do them or not, better to have one anyway. It will act as some kind of reminder for you to move forward. In the end, you'll get to do them.

  16. I made the beef bourguignon from simplyrecipes.com (clever little site :) ) and it was amazing.It took a few hours in the afternoon but its in the Top 5 meals I've ever made list.I mean really good.I can suggest a good wine to with it as well,if you're wondering. Learning how to and baking fresh bread is on my list and have a kid is on the list somewhere.I'll tackle the bread thing first!

  17. A hint for the Bourguinon; go check out the video on the SBS Food website. Not only does the dish look really good, but it's made by a chef with a sexy french accent, and he uses Waygu beef. Seriously, it's awesome.


  18. Mahjong is fun! I'm sure you'll enjoy learning. Also, I love the "burn a copy of thesis" resolution. I imagine it'll be very satisfying. :)

  19. Headed to a luau pot-luck party in the dead of winter and there I was wondering what to make? Well if there is any cake that screams winter version of a luau themed cake it is this amazing Cranberry Upside-down cake. I swear I felt magical while I was making it...everything just came together. To boot, it was a complete hit (even though there were some anti-cranberry folks in attendance). I am so happy you made this post in time, this recipe is for sure going to be a staple in my baking repetoire.

    Oh and the store was out of orange bitters so I bought the blood orange bitter, and it gave a delicious tang to the cake. Thanks for the adapted version! Tres magnifique!

  20. I've always been a list person - I think I'm an event planner in a parallel universe :P I too have learned to try and make resolutions that are more things I want to do or try - not necessarily "fixing" things. Last year I successfully completed a 1/2 marathon and lost 30 pounds, and stayed current with my bank statements - but failed to try making my own tamales. This year? so far - success on my first try at cream puffs! and yes, tamales is back on the list.
    I love cranberries too and just made some cranberry bread last night - yum - your cake is beautiful. Good luck - and Happy New Year!

  21. You can totally learn how to make macarons :) If I can do it, you most certainly could get it done in one short afternoon :)

  22. I just found your blog and really like it! I use a recipe similar to this one but I call it Nantucket pie- it has cranberries and pecans too, but the crust (really more of a cake) is on top. It's so good!

    One of my resolutions this year, after seeing Julie and Julia, is to make beef bourguignon as well.

  23. Made this for a Halloween dinner party and it was delicious! Nice balance of sweet and tart. Will definitely make this again, but my cranberries floated! Turned out as a "Cranberry-in-the-middle" cake. Need to make sure the skins are broken on the berries next time. I also baked it in a cast-iron frying pan. It's a "rule" for upside-down cakes according to my mother.

    Thanks again for sharing such wonderful recipes and stories.

  24. Hi there,

    I've been reading your blog for several years now and love that you're as fond of prose as you are food. :) Imagine how happy I was to see this little upside-down number included in a round-up on The Kitchn this week! Not sure if that's worth a "congrats" at this stage in your successful foodie career, but I would eat that right up if it were me. So congrats! Love your entries, and keep it up.

  25. beef bourguignon is on my to-make life list!


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