A throng of people mill about in the chilly twilight, stands sell hot chocolate, and school choirs and bands play Christmas carols. When it's time to light the monument the mayor leads the crowd in the countdown. The lights come on, fireworks go off, and the crowd cheers. For some reason I always find myself moved to the edge of tears. This year we had the first really chilly weather of the year and there were even a few snow flurries making the whole scene even more like something from a movie. Afterwards we made our way home through the surrounding streets with their shop windows outlined with lights, and buildings decorated with greens, and in the dark Baltimore really did look more like a Christmas village than a grimy second-tier city. Well, almost.
I came home filled with Christmas spirit and immediately plunged into all sorts of Christmas baking.
This cake comes from the LA Times food section via The Best American Recipes 2001-2002, a wonderfully curated collection of recipes series that I find are among my most used cookbooks. The Los Angeles Times does a yearly list of the food section staff's favorite recipes of the year, and this one was a unanimous winner. It's a single-layer sour cream cake with a topping of cranberries. It's rich and moist and works as either dessert or coffeecake. It's also pretty with it's topping of glowing red berries -- far prettier than it is in my picture -- and while it's baking it fills the house with a delicious cinnamony fragrance. All good things for a holiday cake.
Cranberry Upside Down Cake
serves 14 to 16
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9" springform pan and wrap foil around the outside to prevent leaks. If my experience is any indication it will leak anyway so put it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups cranberries, rinsed, picked over to remove stems and get rid of shriveled or nasty cranberries, and at room temperature (this worked out to be just less than a 12 oz bag of cranberries).
1. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add sugar, water, and cinnamon. Cook over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, about three minutes. Stir in cranberries, make sure they are coated with sugar-butter mixture, then pour into pan and set aside.
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugars on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. On low speed add half the flour mixture then mix to combine. Add sour cream and vanilla. Mix to combine. Add remaining flour mixture and mix until smooth. Spread batter evenly over the cranberries in the springform pan.
3. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, edges begin to pull away from the side of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around edge to loosen cake. Invert onto plate. Remove foil, springform ring, and bottom. Invert again onto serving plate. If any cranberries remain in the pan just put them back on top of the cake. Cut into wedges and serve.
Note: The first time I pulled this out of the oven to test it I thought the cake was still very liquid. The second time I pulled it out to test and it still appeared to be just as liquid I realized that it was the cake moving on top of the layer of cranberries. The large amount of butter and shifting cranberries made an almost liquid layer on the bottom of the cake.