People have their misty, water-colored food nostalgia; our Uncle Phil talked frequently about the cakes of his childhood, thus we ended up seeking out dusty bottles of rum, jars of scary-red maraschino cherries, and having myriad cans of pineapple (and we haven’t yet tested the theory that it’s better with fresh) on hand at all times, lest an upside-down mood should strike. Uncle Phil has been gone awhile now, but every once in awhile, we get the urge to upside-down something. Something red, yes, but not artificially so. And we did without the rum. Just a quick trip to the freezer netted us the ingredients for Cardamom-Cranberry Upside-Down Cake.
This was a traditional mishmash of two recipes – one from Kraft, and a borrow from our own brains, not surprisingly. Kraft recipes seem to fear the inclusion of, actual spices, so you know we had to add cardamom. We state the recipe we began with, and include what actually happened during the baking process… The word “whatever” is used a great deal (which probably drives our friend Lorne UP A TREE, but it is what it is, dear friend. You like us anyway, right?) Consistency in a cake of this kind comes from creaming the butter and sugar, not about the weight of the flour. It’s an upside down cake – don’t expect a high-rising bundt, because that’s just not how this cake goes. Okay?
Sleepy, sloe-eyed cardamom pairs beautifully with the piquant burst of wakeful zest that is cranberry, and their happy do-si-do begins in a saucepan, where the tartness is caramelized with lovely brown sugar. Who cares that we used berries that had been in the freezer since Thanksgiving? It’s fine to eat seasonally in terms of shopping, but yay for freezers and dragging out the typical flavors of fall. Plus, since it’s nearly eleven on a fine May morning and it’s a whopping 56°F/13°C, it feels autumnal in the shade, anyway (what IS this wind???).
Cardamom & Cranberry, Upside Down
Preheat oven to 350°F or 175°C
- 1/2 C margarine or butter PLUS 1/3 cup of margarine or butter
- 1 C brown sugar, well packed, PLUS one half cup
- 4 eggs, Flax or Chicken – we used flax*
- 4 Tbsp grated orange zest – we used about 7, but the Heavy-Handed With Spices among us do that
- 7 Tbsp OJ – we used Odwalla tangerine, because that’s what was in the fridge
- 1 Ground Cardamom pod – green hull, black inside bits, and all, We use a coffee grinder. No whole pod? Use 1/2 tsp.
- 2 C Whole Wheat AP flour. Or, just AP flour. Or, just whole wheat. Or, cake flour. Whatever
- 2 tsp Baking Powder
- 1.5 C cranberries, fresh or frozen, whole or chopped
- If you’re using Flax Eggs, make them first. Much of the time we just grind our flax seeds, mix them with the required water, and just dump them into the cake with the wet ingredients. Non-dairy foodies probably grind their teeth, but remember that word “whatever?” Um, yeah. Here’s the right way to do Flax Eggs: The ratio is 1 Tbsp of ground flax to 3 Tbsp of water = 1 egg. Make up your eggs in a small bowl, and let them sit, covered, in the fridge for about fifteen minutes until you’re ready to add them. This allows the flax to absorb the water, appropriately thicken and get goopy, and better imitate the chicken egg effect you’re after, in terms of binding and raising. Or, you can be a heathen like us, and just dump them in – but foodies do say this way is better. Up to you.
- Next, line the bottom of your springform pan with parchment, and give it a quick spray of some sort of cake release – PAM or otherwise. And yes, this may cause mild swearing and gnashing of teeth. We put the metal circle on the paper and trim it after we get the spring tightened. Because it’s just too annoying the nine other ways we tried it.
- FINALLY, you can get to the easy bit – the cooking. In a small saucepan, bring together 1/2 C margarine, 2 Tbsp orange juice and 1/2 c brown sugar over a medium flame, until you’ve achieved a slow lava bubbling. Add 1/2 c. cranberries, and stir constantly. You’re looking for a caramelization effect, so you’ll want to keep this stirring thing going for about fifteen minutes – enough time to create a thickly bubbling, deeply brownish-red sauce that is thickening, but not burnt. Take this bit slowly; it’s annoying to have to start over. If you feel you’re too thick, add a little OJ, or lower the flames and set aside to cool slightly, even if fifteen minutes haven’t passed. When it’s reached perfection, spoon it into the center of your springform, and smooth it in an even circle.
- In a small bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add your eggs, zest, and OJ
- Bring your wet mixture together with your flour and baking powder and cardamom grounds a little at a time – since this is the cake method, you can beat the heck out of the stuff if you’d like, but small lumps are okay – you’ll have zest lumps, either way so stop when the batter stiffens
- Finally, stir in your cranberries. Ours were still frozen, and stiffened the batter still further, which made it interesting getting it into the springform, but we got there.
SET YOUR SPRINGFORM ON A SILPAT OR OTHER OVEN-PROTECTOR. When you’re working with berries in a springform, that’s just the name of the game – it will leak, almost always. Bake 1 hr. and 10 minutes, until the top (or really, the bottom that you can see) is deep golden brown. We checked our cake with a bamboo skewer at the one hour mark, but you know your oven best.
There is something buttery and lovely about this purely vegan cake, which won approval from the vegan-leery in our group. It’s not “health food” by any means – cake is cake, people – but it provides a healthier choice in that the Smart Balance margarine has less cholesterol, and the flax brings a bit of added fiber. Plus those gorgeous cranberries – yum! Tart-sweet, butter, dense, moist crumb – a really lovely late-Spring treat. Best eaten outdoors, in the company of friends.