One of life's great practical jokes is that in summer when I'm surrounded by fresh fruit, it's usually so hot I can't bear to turn on the oven. Summers in Baltimore are steamy and even with the air conditioner running our oven heats up the house. Consequently, I don't do a lot of baking in the summer.
But sometimes during the summer a day comes along when I don't mind turning on the oven. Early last week it was breezy and not humid, and the nighttime temperatures were low enough that the house was staying relatively cool with the air conditioner off and the windows open.
I spent a pleasant morning hanging out in the kitchen making an apricot upside down cake. Through the screen door there was a little breeze, and the sounds of birds in the trees drifted in from our tiny backyard. The house I live in was built in 1885 and the kitchen is in the basement. It helps that in summer this is the coolest room in the house.
I love the way apricots smell when they're baking, the way the fragrance fills the house. The apricots' flavor and fragrance intensify as they cook, and they have enough tartness to contrast with the sweetness of the cake. Plus, I like seeing all those little round apricots looking like so many egg yolks.
This recipe is slightly adapted from Deborah Madison. She puts a dab of almond paste inside each apricot and adds almond extract to the batter. I prefer this without the almond, to me it's a distraction, but if you are fond of almonds, add it back. I also think this would be good with raspberries between the apricots rather than cherries but I haven't tried it.
Apricot Upside Down Cake
apdapted from The Savory Way by Deborah Madison
10 apricots, halved, pits removed
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
10 Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter with the brown sugar in a 10" cast iron skillet. When the sugar has melted, remove the pan from the heat and arrange the apricot halves cut-side up in the skillet. Fill in the area between the apricot halves with the cherry halves.
2. Cream the remaining butter with the sugar until it's light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time, then add the vanilla.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Add them to the batter, stirring by hand. Alternate with the buttermilk or sour cream. Mix in as few strokes as possible so as not to overmix.
4. Pour batter over fruit and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
5. Let the cake rest for a short while, then cover the skillet with the cake plate and invert the cake onto the plate. If anything sticks to the skillet just press it back onto the cake.
It may seem like overkill but it's best with whipped cream.