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Maple Brown Butter Upside-Down Apple Cake

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Apple Cake

This morning, my five year old excitedly declared that we are having two seasons at once.  I knew exactly what he meant.  It’s officially fall, but it sure feels like winter when we look across the street and see a Christmas tree shimmering in the window and a lawn full of snow.

I was in the mood for the perfect winter recipe and a glass of hot cocoa so I grabbed WINTERSWEET by Tammy Donroe Inman with its fitting snowflake-adorned cover.

Wintersweet: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home

The book is filled with “Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home” and it’s organized by ingredient – a whole chapter on apples, one on pears and quince, one on nuts and chocolate, and so on.  I was only 27 pages into the 280 page book when I found something that I had to bake: Cast-Iron Apple Cake with Maple Brown Butter.

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I’ll admit it was the maple brown butter that sold me – I yearned for it.  Reading further into the recipe, I learned that the apple cake was an upside-down cake – bonus, because I knew it would have that gooey delish topping that all upside-down cakes have.  Although I very seldom bake recipes without significant alteration, I decided to give this one a go almost as written.  I had to know if it was as wonderful as it sounded.  I made just a single change to use all white flour instead of the half whole-wheat flour that the recipe called for.  I would have loved the whole wheat flour, but I didn’t have any in the house and it was snowing after all.  I didn’t want to get out of my pajamas.

This maple brown butter upside-down apple cake may be the most moist apple cake that I have ever had!  I’d almost describe it as wet – loaded with apple flavor and maple, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  It’s not a showstopper beauty of a dessert, but it’s one that could quickly become a family favorite, definitely served warm on a crisp day.

Apple Cake

The apple cake recipe is wonderful as written, but of course the first thing that I started thinking about after tasting the cake is how I would make it my own.  I’d throw a little ginger into the batter and perhaps some lemon zest.  I love how those flavors brighten the taste of apples.  I might also swap some of the brown sugar in the cake batter for maple syrup to bring out the maple flavor even more.

I’d love to hear what you think when you bake it according to the recipe, with my variations above, or with your own.

Maple Brown Butter Upside-Down Apple Cake Recipe

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Apple Cake
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Maple Brown Butter Upside-Down Apple Cake


Topping Ingredients

  • 1 pound 450 g red-skinned baking apples (2 to 3), like Jonagold, Braeburn, Rome Beauty, and Stayman
  • 4 tablespoons 60 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup 60 ml maple syrup, preferably Grade B

Cake Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup 115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup 170 g firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup 175 ml milk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup 140 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup 140 g whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg preferably freshly grated
  • 1/3 cup 80 ml apple cider, at room temperature


Topping Instructions

  1. Do not peel the apples. Cut them into quarters, core them, and cut them into 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick slices.
  2. Meanwhile, in a 10-inch (25-cm) cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.
  3. Continue heating for 4 to 5 minutes more, gently tipping the pan back and forth, until the butter smells toasty and has turned a medium shade of amber (it’s hard to judge color against the jet-black metal, so spoon a bit out onto a white plate to get a better look).
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the maple syrup.
  5. Arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles, tightly overlapping the slices to fit as many as possible. Set aside.

Cake Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.
  3. Mix in the eggs one at a time.
  4. With the mixer running, add the milk slowly and mix well.
  5. In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  6. Add half of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined.
  7. Then mix in the apple cider.
  8. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.
  9. Pour the batter on top of the apples and smooth it evenly to the edges.
  10. Bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the edges are lightly browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan (if you’re using a cake pan instead of a skillet, you may need to increase the baking time by 5 to 10 minutes).
  11. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool until it's no longer hot to the touch. If you’re strong, invert the cake onto a serving plate by setting the plate over the top of the skillet, holding them firmly together, and flipping. Or bring the skillet to the table and slice the cake, inverting each piece onto a plate, apple-side up. Serve warm.

Recipe Notes

Recipe reprinted with permission from WINTERSWEET: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home © 2013 by Tammy Donroe Inman, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

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7 comments on “Maple Brown Butter Upside-Down Apple Cake”

  1. Jeansays:

    Great comfort food, quick to make, and very tasty!

  2. Janetsays:

    If one does not have a cast iron pan what can we use?

  3. Wow, its an innovetive dish made up of apples. I really like it…

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