James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Recipe and Tips: Caramel Apple Up-Side-Down Cake

This cake makes a fine change of pace dessert. The key to its success is a preliminary cooking of the apples on top of the stove. Apples in an upside-down cake should be tender and completely cooked. No crunch, please.

Firm-sweet apples, such as Cameo or Braeburn, are excellent in this cake because they hold their shape and deliver a sweetness that complements the buttery brown sugar topping. Browning the butter before combining it with brown sugar and cinnamon adds a nutty caramel flavor. This cake is best when very fresh, and it reheats beautifully the next day in a warm oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Apple Up-Side-Down Cake

This cake makes a fine change of pace dessert. The key to its success is a preliminary cooking of the apples on top of the stove
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8 wedges



  • 2 pounds Braeburn or Cameo apples or other firm sweet/tart apple (3 or 4 large), quartered, cored, peeled and each quarter cut into 3 wedges
  • 1 lemon, Finely grated zest (reserve for cake)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • pinch table salt


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar


  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour spooned into the cup and leveled, 4 1/2 ounces
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter slightly softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup whole milk


Prepare Apples

  • Quarter, core, peel and slice the apples.
  • Toss the slices with the water and lemon juice. Drain well.
  • Drain well in a colander just before using.
  • Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat.
  • When bubbly, add the apples and salt and toss gently with two wooden or heatproof flexible spatulas to coat with the butter.
  • Cook, uncovered, 5 minutes, tossing once.
  • Toss again, cover the pan, and cook another 5 minutes, turning the apples once.  The apples will release a lot of liquid.
  • Uncover the pan and continue cooking for about 10 minutes more, until the apples are tender, the excess moisture has evaporated, and some of the apple wedges are lightly browned on one side.
  • Cool the apples in the skillet, uncovered.

Prepare the Topping

  • Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium low to medium heat and cook, swirling the pan every minute or so, until the butter has turned a nutty brown color, 6 to 8 minutes in all.
  • Stir in the cinnamon and cook a few seconds.
  • Add the brown sugar, take the pan off the heat, and stir to make a paste.
  • Cool 10 minutes and stir to make sure the sugar and butter are well-combined.

Prepare Apples in Pan

  • Butter a round 9 x 2-inch layer cake pan, preferably nonstick, and dump in the brown sugar paste.
  • Pat the paste with your fingers to cover the bottom of the pan completely. It will be a very thin layer. Don’t be concerned if you see small gaps in the topping.
  • Arrange the cooled apple slices, slightly overlapping and tightly packed, in concentric circles on the topping. There should be a single layer of apples.

Prepare the Cake Batter

  • Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Whisk together well, the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.
  • Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until it is smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  • Scrape the bowl and beater.
  • Add 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar, the lemon zest, and the vanilla, and beat on medium high speed 1 minute. 
  • Scrape the bowl and beater.
  • With the mixer on medium speed, slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, taking 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Increase the speed to medium high and beat 3 to 4 minutes, stopping once to scrape the bowl and beater.
  • Add the egg and beat it in well on medium speed, about 1 minute.
  • Add the egg yolks and beat until the batter is smooth.
  • On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients; stop to scrape the bowl and beater as necessary. Beat only until smooth.
  • Scrape the batter over the apples and spread level.

Baking the Cake

  • Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the top of the cake is well-browned with a few darker spots, it springs back when gently pressed, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Run the tip of a small sharp knife around the edges of the cake to release, and cool the cake on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
  • Rotate the cake pan briskly on the countertop, grasping it between both palms, to make sure the apples are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • Cover the cake pan with a cake plate, grasp both securely and invert.
  • Slowly lift off the cake pan. If apple slices have shifted or are stuck to the pan, put them where they belong.
  • Cool the cake about 1 hour before serving
  • The cake make be baked early in the day for serving a few hours later.
  • Cut into wedges with a sharp knife.

Serving Suggestion

  • This cake is delicious plain, but it is also excellent with lightly sweetened vanilla-flavored whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla or huckleberry ice cream.

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