Pecan & Peach Upside Down Cake
I have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards foods that are prepared then flipped over. Not sure why that is really. It’s always a bit nerve-racking when you’re turning your dish over… will it come out? Will it look nice? Will parts be stuck to the pan? I will admit right here, right now – that sometimes happens. It’s happened to me a few times, but we just soldier on don’t we? And why? Why do we do that? Because maybe the best thing about food is you can eat it upside down.
For my money the peach is one of the best things in the world. I have been lucky enough that in my life, two of our family homes have had a peach tree. When I was a kid, there was a peach tree next to our house that, I guess, had been grafted from two different varieties of peaches. The tree was already established when we moved in and the first time it produced fruit, they grew mainly on the left side of the tree. If my memory is correct they were cling peaches that first year, and they were fantastic to eat, perfect flesh and that slight tang when you got down to the pit. This was the first time that I can recall eating a fresh peach: until then any peaches we ever ate came from a can. The next year when the tree bloomed, it flowered mainly on the right side of the tree and the peaches were freestone. I was stunned that you could actually eat the whole peach and be left with an almost perfectly clean pit. These peaches also had a little more fuzz on them, but the same great flavor that I remembered from the year before. In the third year both sides produced peaches at the same time, I kid you not. That year the whole tree was filled with peaches. When the tree faded at the end of that season, I wondered what magic would happen next summer. Sadly before the next peach season came around, we moved from that house and the property was bulldozed, tree and all, to build a parking lot. The peach does not hinder progress.
Some years later my parents planted a peach tree at the new house, along with an orange tree, apple tree, and I think a grapefruit tree. The grapefruit tree never made it: blossoming beautifully but never producing any fruit. It was cut down. The apple tree has produced fruit but it took many, many years before doing so and the apples are very small, and weird looking. I also won’t eat any of those apples because all of the dogs that have lived in that house or have been to that house, would always pee on that tree, and that creeps me out a bit. The orange tree... well where I live orange trees grow like weeds and it's rare to look at that tree and not see fruit growing. I will not eat any of the fruit from that tree, as one day while picking oranges for my mother, I came nose to nose with a rat scampering through the branches. But ultimately, my concern was not with any of those trees anyway because it was the peach tree I waited for. I waited, and I waited and I waited. It seemed that the peach tree was headed in the same direction as the ill-fated grapefruit tree: to be unceremoniously chopped down. Then one year an urgent call came from my mother asking me to come to the house. The peach tree had not only bore fruit, but it had all ripened at the same time. And there was a huge bounty of fruit! We canned so many peaches that year, it seemed like we would never run out. The kitchen smelled like peaches for days. The jars were stored on a shelf in the garage waiting for those late winter days when there wouldn't be another peach in sight. It's hard to remember how long those peaches lasted but one thing that is easy to remember was the taste of peaches in December and January and February and well, you get the point. There was something about those peaches we put up that made them completely different from the canned peaches you would buy at the store. Every time we opened a jar, the smell of peaches would hit and you would be taken back to the very day they were picked: a time machine in a jar. After that year the tree never produced anything much and ultimately... got the axe.
So now, when summer arrives, my scouring of grocery stores, farmers markets, local fruit and veg stands gets locked into auto-pilot: I am always on the lookout for peaches. At the height of the season you might see me just wandering around produce sections trying to breath in the pleasant sweet smell. The aroma of fresh peaches is intoxicating to me. When I come across peaches I'll check the color, the firmness, the smell and if they're priced right and they taste good, I buy a bunch of them and make peach jam... jars and jars of it. If there is enough peach jam on the shelves in our house to last until the next peach season, I'm content. Then I just keep going back to the market buying a few at a time so that I can make peach cake, peach pie, and peach ice cream and of course still have one or two at the house just to eat. During summer if there are no peaches in our house, something feels amiss. At the end of peach season, when the supermarket displays are empty and the farmers markets are starting to sell other things it is really...
Trying to pick my favorite peach recipe is not an easy task. Surely there is some recipe, that I make, that I would rate lower than first place, but what it is eludes me now. This upside down cake is so good it's made several times during the peach season. It's made just to enjoy at home, it's made to take to the office for an afternoon treat for the staff, and it’s made to take to Saturday dinner with the family. It has a casual elegant look to it that can fit into almost any event. The taste is great, the addition of pecans in the flour along with cinnamon and nutmeg give the cake a slight spiciness, that's perfectly offset by the peaches. I either pulled this recipe from a Bon Appetit magazine, or my Epicurious App, either way you can find the original recipe here. You can make it as directed there and it will be perfectly delicious or follow along with me below to see how I put it together. For my printable version of this recipe go here.
The first time I made it I was worried I wasn't arranging the peaches very well. I was convinced that the whole thing was just going to stick to the top of the pan when I turned it over. It was a foregone conclusion that the peaches were going to be too heavy for the cake and the whole thing would just collapse under its own weight. Yes, before I had even gotten it in the oven I had decided the entire thing was going to be a disaster. It wasn't. In fact it came out looking exactly like the picture. Side note here... for me, when that happens, it just makes me so happy, I often clap my hands together and scream out "I'm the winner, I'm the winner"! Don't ask why I do that or what it means; I wouldn't be able to tell you.
This cake is simple to make and it looks good, but best of all it has such a good flavor. I will say that using freestone peaches is a must, so you'll most likely want to make this towards the later part of peach season (late July or August) when freestone peaches are at their best. Also pick peaches that are ripe, but still firm, if the flesh is soft and gives easily when you press it, it will be a little harder to peel and slice the peaches nicely. When you're sitting down to eat… it is great unadorned, but if you like, plop a dollop of whipped cream on top of each piece as you serve it and you'll probably wonder why you didn't get a bigger piece to start with. Don't worry you can always create a distraction and go back for seconds when no one is looking! If I were to ever meet the person who created this recipe, I would give them a super long hug and all the loose change I have in my pockets, it's just that good. There are really just two words to say on how this cake makes me feel...
To make this cake you’ll especially need to have a food processor, a 9-inch diameter cake pan with 2-inch high sides, a stand mixer (or electric mixer). A small offset spatula is handy but not entirely necessary.
So let's get to it already:
For the topping:
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
½ cup packed light brown sugar
40 - 45 pecan halves (choose nice looking pecan halves that are approximately the same size for the best look).
2 medium peaches (about 7 oz each) ripe but firm. Freestone peaches preferable. See my note at the bottom if you need help peeling peaches.
For the Cake:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup pecans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup whole milk
First we start by… you guessed it… Place your oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Now lets crack on with the topping:
Peel your peaches then cut each peach in half, throwing away the pit (we don’t need that part, unless you want to plant a tree or something). The original recipe has you cut the peaches into wedges but sometimes I simply slice each half into six slices instead. They can be much easier to layer into the pan this way. If you’re good with wedges, so be it. Either way, cut each half into six pieces, slices or wedges, your choice. Please be careful when cutting peeled peaches though they can be very slippery. No one gets cut on my watch, okay?
Now grab a saucepan and melt the butter over a medium heat.
When the butter is melted whisk in the brown sugar until it is completely dissolved and the butter and sugar are really well incorporated, which takes about a minute or so of brisk whisking.
Next you pour the butter and sugar mixture into a 9-inch diameter cake pan with 2-inch high sides and using a small offset spatula spread it into a thin even layer covering the entire bottom of the pan.
Now take those pretty pecan halves you sorted out and place them with the round side down, side by side around the outer edge of the pan.
Finally place the peach wedges, just slightly overlapping, inside the pecan circle to cover the rest of the bottom of the pan. You will probably need to cut a few pieces for the very center of the pan or to fill any large gaps you might have. Just do your best, no matter how you get them in there, it’s still going to look great. Set the pan aside while you make the cake.
Now, let's move on to the cake part:
Putting the cake together isn’t difficult at all. But you do need a food processor.
Start by putting the flour, pecans, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor and process everything until the nuts are finely ground. Just let this mix hang out for a while.
Now whisk the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl until they are well blended and set those aside for now as well.
Next you need to cream the butter and sugar together, so using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment beat the sugar and butter together at medium speed until pale, about 4 minutes.
When the butter is pale, keep the mixer running and add the egg mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, to the sugar mixture, letting it mix in well before adding the next tablespoon.
When all the egg is incorporated, scrape down the bowl to be sure everything is well combined.
Now put the mixer on low speed (or you’ll have flour everywhere) and add about ⅓ of the flour mixture and let it mix just until it’s blended in.
Pour in about ½ of the milk next and mix again, just until blended. Feel free to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
Next add about ½ of the remaining flour and again mix just until blended.
Add the remaining amount of milk and mix that in just until blended.
Finally add the remaining flour mixture, and you guessed it, mix just until blended.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure there are no hidden pockets of flour at the bottom, giving the batter just a few folds with your spatula, to make sure everything is nicely incorporated. The batter should be thick, after all it does have to hold up all those peaches.
Drop the batter by large spoonful’s over the top of the pecans and peaches, and gently spread the batter evenly with your spatula.
Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes. The cake should be well browned on the top and it might even be pulling away from the sides a bit. It should be firm in the center when pressed. To be absolutely sure it is cooked through you can use an instant read thermometer and when inserted into the center of the cake it should read 200ºF. The old fashioned way will work as well, where a cake tester or toothpick when inserted into the center should come out dry and clean. If there is anywhere you're going to have any trouble with this cake, this is it... pulling it out too early will leave the center not fully baked and while you can just scoop that part out and eat the outside (speaking from experience here) it just way better when you can eat the whole thing.
When the cake is done, place the pan on a wire rack and let it cool for 25 minutes – Set a Timer! You do not want to let it cool in the pan longer than 30 minutes – or you’ll have real trouble getting it out (I guess that's the second place you could have some problems), but you won't, I can just tell.
After 25 minutes run a small knife gently around the side of cake to loosen any stuck cake parts from the pan and put your serving dish on top of the cake pan.
Now the fun part...
Use an oven mitt (the pan will still be hot) to hold the pan and serving dish together as you turn it upside down.
Let the cake rest for 1 minute, then slowly lift the pan straight up and away from the cake. Be careful the pan will still be hot.
If by chance any peaches or pecans have come loose or moved you can adjust them now.
Let the cake cool to room temperature before serving (I like it best however, when it's still just a little bit warm).
I hope you like this as much as I do. Leave me a comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Here's a tip for peeling peaches:
Using a paring knife, score a small "X" in the bottom of the peach. Place the peach in boiling water (enough to cover the peach completely) for 45 - 60 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peach from the boiling water and place it immediately into a bowl filled with ice and water. As soon as the peach is cool enough to handle, peel the skin away from the peach using a paring knife to remove stubborn parts of skin (riper peaches will peel more easily and will need less time in the boiling water). Be careful when cutting peeled peaches in half they will be slippery! I usually hold the peach with a paper towel and move the peach around the knife rather than slicing with the knife into the peach if that makes sense.