Whether you pronounce it pee-can or puh-kahn, I love pecan pie. So much so that when I was in Afghanistan (as a reporter) and the rocket attack siren went off in the middle of dinner, I took my slice of pecan pie with me to the bunker. I may have looked ridiculous eating pie in a dark concrete shelter designed to protect us from bombs, but I didn’t really care. No terrorist was going to make me throw away a perfectly delicious dessert.
So, you can imagine that I am a big proponent of pecan pie for Thanksgiving. But pecan pie gets really lonely sitting on a dessert table all by itself. You need at least one — if not two — other things to keep it company. This would be a perfect companion.
If you’ve never made an upside-down cake before, the first step might seem kinda weird. You put the cake pan on a burner on the stove to melt the butter and make the magical buttery brown sugar topping that drips down over and into the finished cake. Feel free to do this (and bake the cake) in a cast-iron skillet.
This is similar to a pineapple upside-down cake, obviously. But instead of being straight-up sweet, it’s sweet and tart. Plus, it looks really pretty and festive for Thanksgiving (or Christmas). Maybe even prettier if you used cranberries that weren’t frozen first.
I actually have been wanting to bake this cake for a while now. I think you all know about my love of cranberries, so when I saw this in the Essential New York Times Cookbook, I bookmarked it immediately. It just took me a while to get to it. If you’d prefer a version in which you don’t have to beat the egg whites separately, you might try CakeSpy’s recipe on Serious Eats.
This is definitely one of my new favorites. If Toby and I had slightly less self control, we would have eaten the entire cake the night I baked it.
Isn’t it lovely? And I bet it would be even better on a dessert plate next to some pecan pie. After all, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is for?
Cranberry upside-down cake (Adapted slightly from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)
4 tablespoons plus 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/4 cups (about 3/4 of a bag) fresh cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk (whole is preferred, but I used skim and it was fine)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a 9-inch cake pan (not the kind with a removable bottom) or cast-iron skillet on stove on low heat. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in the pan, then add the brown sugar and stir until it dissolves (I had to add about 1/2 tablespoon more butter). Once it has dissolved and starts smelling like caramel, take the pan off the heat. Make sure the brown sugar-butter mixture is completely coating the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool.
Rinse and pick through the cranberries, then toss with the orange juice. Pour the berries and juice into the pan evenly on top of the brown sugar mixture.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a small bowl. In a mixer with a paddle attachment — or with a handheld mixer — cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat to combine, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat until well combined.
Add half the flour mixture and beat just to combine. Add the milk and beat, then add the rest of the flour mixture and combine.
In a small, clean bowl, using an electric mixer with clean beaters, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until the egg whites hold a soft peak (you can do this with a whisk, but it will take forever). Add the beaten egg whites about a third at a time into the cake batter and gently fold to combine.
Spoon the batter into the pan on top of the cranberries, and spread as evenly as possible. It’s OK if the batter doesn’t go all the way to the edges, but it should be close.
Bake the cake until it’s golden brown on top, 30-45 minutes. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then turn cake out onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.