upside-down apple and prune plum spice cake + salted caramel sauce

It all started with a desire for salted caramel sauce, after going many months without it. To be truthful, though, I knew what I was going to make as soon as I saw these seasonal prune plums at my grocer. I harbor a desire to turn everything into an upside-down cake, with the apple spice cakes typical of autumn no exception.

Ordinarily these spice cakes are filled with apple chunks or applesauce, and are tasty, but are also mildly boring and relatively thoughtless to make.

This upside-down version of a spice cake (or a spice cake tatin, if you will) provides some extra built-in flavor, through the glorious layer of caramelized apples and prune plums. It packs a well-spiced punch as well, thanks to additions of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cardamom, and Grand Marnier in the batter.

Bonus: it’s pretty to look at. Bonus 2: The spiced salted caramel sauce is a good substitute in life for anything edible. So delicious!

As I leisurely put together this caramel sauce and cake, I reflected on the last time I had tried my hand at an apple spice cake. I was living in France at the time. Memories sifted through my mind hazily.

I thought back to the glares I received from stylish French people when they saw me pairing Chacos with a bright yellow-green rain jacket. I remembered the time the yard of my apartment was torn apart by my landlady’s construction men in her effort to create a mini-empire of apartments. And then the subsequent time when two weeks of rain flooded the yard, and my roommate and I had to repeatedly make our way through a foot of water to get to our home.

I thought of the familiar sights I saw everyday during my bus commute. Of the smells of freshly-baked almond pastries. Of those teeny tiny cups of coffee. Of the funny short man I saw playing a saxophone that one time. Of all the neat things in my landlady’s backyard, and how her side of the house was very beautiful, while ours was frightening and falling to pieces. Of how I washed all my clothes by hand, because I was too shy to walk down the street to the laundromat. And of the scary mannequin that leered at me in Aigues-Mortes.

It was my time in France, back in 2007, that got me started taking pictures of my baking successes. Due to the sketchy gas oven in my apartment, and my lack of interest in food styling and proper lighting, everything that I documented then looked pretty much the same. But from the granola cake, to the kiwi cake, to this apple spice cake’s predecessor, I was hooked.

I do hope you’ll try this recipe out. It has enough deliciousness to equate to at least a few months of fond memories from time spent abroad – mannequin excluded.

Upside-Down Apple and Prune Plum Spice Cake {original recipe}

Serve with Spiced Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)

I’ve mentioned before that I make my tartes tatins (and upside-down cakes) using a 10-inch cast iron skillet. It is an ideal pan for this cake, as there is no need to flip or disturb the apple plum layer until the cake has finished cooking. If you don’t have this size cast iron pan, you can heat the butter, sugar, apples and plums in a skillet, before transferring to a buttered and floured parchment-lined cake pan.


For the caramelized layer:

3 apples (I used McIntosh, they bake well), cored and sliced
5-10 prune plums, pitted and quartered
6 tbsp butter
2/3 c. brown sugar

For the cake batter:

1 c. rye flour
1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp + 2 tsp Grand Marnier
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cardamom
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. heavy cream


In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, combine butter and brown sugar. Melt and mix. Arrange apple and plum slices as desired, and allow mixture to cook for two to three minutes, until caramel apple aromas waft up at you. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or a large bowl equipped with a mixing implement and a strong arm), cream butter and brown sugar for two minutes.  Add eggs, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla, Grand Marnier, and all spices. Add flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the milk and heavy cream, beating at low speed.

Pour batter into cast iron skillet over apples and plums. Butter will rise up around the edges of the pan – don’t worry. Bake cake on center oven rack for 40-45 minutes until an inserted cake tester shows it has cooked through. Allow to cool in the pan for ten minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet to free any adhering cake. Place a large plate on top of the skillet, upside down, and in one smooth motion, flip to turn out the cake onto the plate (you will likely need oven mitts as the cast iron will still be hot). If any fruit bits have stuck behind in the pan, return them to their rightful place on the cake

Cool cake until warm or to room temperature. Served with Spiced Salted Caramel Sauce.Store cake in fridge, well-wrapped, for up to three days.

Spiced Salted Caramel Sauce {original recipe}

Makes ~2 c.


1 c. sugar
6 tbsp butter
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamon


Pour sugar into a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Let sit until sugar melts, and begins turning a light amber color. Stir if necessary to break up any large chunks, but otherwise let it be. When the caramel has turned a medium amber (the darkness is up to you – you want to let it caramelize sufficiently without burning. Remember that it will continue to cook for a few seconds after it has been removed from the heat), add butter and stir until mixed. Add cream, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon, and stir. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Pour into a glass jar and cool completely. Cap and store in fridge or freezer.


lumberjack pancake cake

When people hear that I’ve studied forestry, they usually think I either spend my days in a fire tower (looking for smoke signals), or practicing my crosscut saw technique. While I normally do neither of these things, I have crossed paths with the latter on several occasions.

Last weekend I spectated at a timbersports competition at the University of Maine, and it prompted me to memorialize the event in a cake. Hence, the Lumberjack Pancake Cake was born.

Actually, this is a Lumberjack Crêpe Cake. However, the words lumberjack and crêpe run together in a rather uncomfortable way, and besides, who has ever heard of a lumberjack eating crêpes? No one.

I made two kinds of crêpes: vanilla & cinnamon sugar, and chocolate. I alternated layers, topping each chocolate layer with a salted caramel sauce, and each vanilla layer with melted chocolate ganache. You’d probably never catch lumberjacks eating this, either.

The cake topper is made out of rolled marshmallow fondant, which is incredibly easy to make, and much tastier than regular, more time-consuming rolled fondant. I used colored mini marshmallows for this, separating them by color and creating small individual batches.

Now to the fun part: showing off the lumberjacks and jills that I had the pleasure of photographing this past Saturday. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what many forestry students get up to in their spare time, have a look – there’s nothing quite as fun as watching as a fierce timbersports competition.

Lots of axes, lots of saws, and lots of hardworking chaps who might not have turned down a slice of this cake if I had made it in time to bring down to them.

Lumberjack Pancake Cake

Original crêpes recipes

I started off with a basic crêpe recipe of 3 cups flour, 3 cups milk, 3 eggs. I made two batches of crêpes with significant additions, so that the cake was aesthetically lovely and tall, but one batch would be plenty to create a substantial dessert.

I won’t provide recipes for salted caramel sauce or chocolate ganache here, as there are plenty of those out there and all are equally delicious, but I will mention that I didn’t let my caramel sauce truly ‘caramelize’ so that it would look more like melted butter and syrup.

For marshmallow fondant, see Wilton’s recipe and tutorial.

Vanilla Cinnamon Custard Crêpes

2 1/2 c. cake flour
3 c. milk
3 eggs
1/2 c. custard powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c. cinnamon-sugar mixture

Chocolate Crêpes

3 c. flour
3 1/2 c. milk
3 eggs
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions for both recipes:

Combine all ingredients, let sit at least 5 minutes. Heat a nonstick pan over medium, grease lightly with oil. When hot, spoon a ladle of batter onto pan, and spread it around evenly. After one to two minutes, flip and cook for up to one minute more.

Remove from pan, repeat until batter is gone.

rose water and grenadine madeleines

Today, March 20th, is Macaron Day. In bakeries around the world, macaron devourers are ringing in this joyous occasion. Happy Macaron Day, festive celebrators.

But on this special day, I give you no macarons – if you know me, you know that is so not my style. I’m contrary like that.

Rather, I’ll let you in on a special treat that I much prefer: these lovely spring-welcoming Rose Water and Grenadine Madeleines.

When I last discussed madeleines, leaves were falling from the trees, and pumpkin was in the air. On the lips of foodie folk, that is.

I’ve been working on my technique and recipe proportions since then, and I believe I’ve created a real winner. While these madeleines may look similar to those from last October, this batter produced much more consistent cakelets. All the madeleines had lusciously dangerous curves, and there were no large air pockets on the baked cake surface or underside. Perhaps more importantly, they baked equally well in my two different madeleine tins.

I have a tin tin (narf) that I have used successfully for years, and a newer nonstick tin that I bought last year. So far, I’ve been quite disappointed with the nonstick tin in comparison, but with this recipe, both tins produced nothing but aces.

I recently bought a bottle of rose water and decided to make that the star of these madeleines. I realize rose water is reminiscent of soap for some, which is understandable. But it is so light and refreshing in these madeleines that I encourage you to try them, even if the concept of soap cake makes you cringe. After all, it used to be the most popular essence to bake with, before vanilla was readily available.

Complementing the rose water are a few splashes of Rose’s grenadine. While grenadine is awfully syrupy-sweet on its own, it performed exactly as I intended it to here, tinting the cakes with an ethereal hint of fluffy pink color, while adding no flavor to the finished product. You can faintly make out the color in some of these photos; to me, it is the same delicate hue as red grapefruit.

As the weather reached summery temps over the weekend, we soaked up the sun outdoors whilst watching the mountains of snow begin to melt in the yard. These madeleines were the perfect spring cake for such an event, but would look just as nice in a more formal setting – on an Easter table, for instance.

Open windows, sunshine, turning the heat off, long afternoons outside. We started our first seeds, including broccoli, basil, various flowers, and chewin’ tobaccie. Hopefully these seeds have plenty of germination determination.

The biggest achievement of the past week was receiving my bound thesis in the mail. Now I can sit and bat my eyelashes at it for long hours, smelling its new book smell, and admiring its lush green cover. It’s all upwards from there.

Rose Water and Grenadine Madeleines

{Original recipe}

Makes 24 madeleines, plus a bit of extra batter to slurp

Note: Madeleine recipes like to tell you to blanch your almonds. Well, world, I’ve had enough of your blanching. I like the added color in my finished cakes anyway. But… blanch if you must.


1/2 c. unsalted butter + 1 tbsp for madeleine tins
1/2 c. + 3 tbsp almonds, finely ground
3/4 c. + 1 tbsp flour
1/2 c. + 3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp rose water
4-5 splashes grenadine


Melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush into madeleine tins. Cool one minute, then sprinkle flour into each mold. Tap in each direction to evenly coat, then tap out extra. Set aside.

Melt butter in small bowl, and cool. Add rose water and 2-3 splashes grenadine.

In a large bowl, whisk ground almonds, flour, sugar and baking powder.

In another large bowl, whisk eggs and salt for two to three minutes until well-frothed. Whisk in half of flour mixture, then butter mixture. Switch to a spatula, and fold in the remaining flour mixture. At this point, mix in additional splashes of grenadine if mixture is not yet a light rosy hue.

Transfer batter into a pastry bag, making sure that the tip is large enough to allow almond chunks to pass through. Pipe batter into tins, making sure not to overfill: 2/3 to 3/4 full should be plenty.

Chill tins in the fridge for two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake tins for 8 – 14 minutes, rotating once. My nonstick tin took 9 minutes to bake, and my tin tin took 13 minutes. My advice is to watch your madeleines bake carefully; it’s only a few minutes of your time, but these are important minutes. When the edges turn golden brown, and the center bumps appear cooked (the change is noticeable if you watch them bake), remove pan from the oven. Invert onto a cooling rack, or pry out with a spoon or knife, which I chose to do to make sure there were no cake tears / my tears.

Let cool. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired. These are best eaten the day they are made, as they grow sticky with time. However, I’ve found that the rose water flavor mellows by the second day, which could be a good thing. Store well-wrapped.