We were talking about cranberries. I had asked if anyone knew why people ate cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. Besides being a tasty accompaniment to turkey that is.
“Indigenous means native; something that originates or occurs naturally in a particular place.”
I laid some cranberry info on them. The cranberry, a relative of the blueberry and the huckleberry, is native to North America. It grows in bogs from Virginia to Wisconsin, and extends all the way to the Pacific coast. Cranberries are harvested in the fall, from September to the beginning of November.
“So does that mean that the Indians and the Pilgrims ate them?”
We all agreed that since the Native Americans were using cranberries, it made sense that the Pilgrims would incorporate them into their harvest feast.
“This is kind of like a history lesson too.”
They had never eaten raw cranberries, so we cut some up to try.
Yep, they were tart. But several of the kids asked for more, and I had to cut them off lest we not have enough for our upside-down cake.
We read through the recipe and I explained that, no we would not be eating the cake standing on our heads, but we would build it upside-down in the pan and then, once baked, flip the whole thing over.
We started with 1/2 pound of room temperature butter.
“One pound of butter is the same as sixteen ounces, and is usually packaged in four sticks. So we need…”
They noted that each was four ounces, and that each stick was marked in tablespoon increments.
“If we need four tablespoons for the topping, that would be…”
“1/2 a stick!”
“Which would be two ounces.”
That went into a pan to melt.
We placed the rest of the butter into a bowl and used the wrappers to grease a springform pan.
“I know the recipe calls for a 9-inch pan, but I don’t have one, so we’ll use this 10-inch. Our cake will just be slightly shorter and should take slightly less time to bake. I don’t want to use an 8-inch because I don’t want to risk overflowing the pan. That would be sad.”
They all agreed.
Once the butter was melted, they added brown sugar and cinnamon and poured the crumby mixture into the pan.
I asked them to pat it out evenly.
I should have probably designated just one person for that job.
The whole cranberries went on top of that.
“Our recipe calls for 2 cups. Instead of measuring we can just look at the bag. It says a serving size is 1/2 cup and that there are 4 servings in the bag. So that would mean…”
“We use the whole bag.”
Except they had eaten a good portion of the first bag. So we opened another and just made an even layer.
Back to making the cake batter.
They took turns creaming the butter, sugar, and salt together, and recalled why that butter needed to be at room temperature.
Then, one egg yolk was whisked in.
“Can I just crack the egg into a bowl and scoop out the yolk?’
Whole eggs were added, one at a time.
“Why just one at a time?”
“So they don’t slosh out!”
And the last of our wet ingredients, sour cream.
“Now it calls for 2/3 cup. I’ve got a 1/3 cup measure, but sour cream is kind of annoying to scoop into it. It’s messy and I don’t have a dishwasher and I don’t like to wash more dishes than I absolutely have to. Do you think we could just weigh it instead?”
We looked at a chart of measuring equivalents.
We determined that 1/3 cup is the same as 2.6 ounces.
“But we need 2/3 cup.”
We placed the whole bowl onto the scale.
“Don’t forget to zero it out!”
And weighed 5.2 ounces of sour cream. Without dirtying a cup.
Our next ingredient was flour.
I reminded them about the different types of flours. Finely milled cake flour is made from a softer wheat than regular all-purpose flour, and as a lower-protein flour, it will develop less gluten when mixed with liquid.
“More gluten means chewy, like bread or pizza, less gluten means soft and tender, like birthday cake. Do we want a chewy upside-down cake?”
“That’s why we use cake flour.”
Because it is so finely milled, cake flour tends to clump up.
Therefore, it needs to be sifted.
We put a sifter on top of the bowl of mixed wet ingredients and placed the whole thing on the scale. This would allow us to weigh the cake flour directly into the sifter, measure our baking powder and baking soda on top of that, and then sift everything together right into the bowl.
Side note: If you don’t like to wash dishes, get a scale.
The kids traded off hitting the side of the sifter with their hands or the handle of a spoon. I think we got most of the dry ingredients in the bowl.
They took turns incorporating the flour into the batter.
I showed them how they could still use a folding motion with the whisk.
The resulting batter was placed atop the cranberries.
And they used a rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly.
We had to wait about 45 (!) minutes while the cake baked, during which there were several pleading inquiries about its status.
Finally it was done. But we still had to wait!
(Just long enough for the cake to cool slightly, but not so cool that the cranberry syrup would get too thick and stick to the pan.)
They gathered around while I removed the collar from the springform pan and placed a plate on top of the cake. We flipped the whole thing over and removed the bottom of the pan…
Seriously, the unveiling never gets old.
It was inhaled. In fact, the small amount of leftover cake nearly caused a family fight the next day.
Cranberries, who knew?
Cranberry Upside-Down Cake, only slightly adapted from this recipe.
1/2 lb. (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed, rinsed, and dried), at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ tsp. fine sea salt
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (5.2 oz) sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
7 oz. (1-3/4 cups) cake flour
1 tsp. aluminum free baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with sides at least 2-1/2 inches high. (A springform pan will work; just be sure to set it on a foil-lined baking sheet to catch any leaks.)
Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt 4 Tbs. of the butter and stir it into the brown sugar and cinnamon until well combined. Spread the brown sugar mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan and spread the cranberries evenly over the sugar.
Put the remaining 12 Tbs. butter in a medium bowl. Using a wooden spoon, cream the butter with the granulated sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk and mix until well combined. Switch to a whisk and stir in the eggs one at a time. Whisk until the batter is smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and baking soda directly onto the batter. Using the whisk, combine the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps.
Spread the batter evenly over the cranberry mixture in the cake pan. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when gently touched and a skewer inserted in the center comes out with only moist crumbs clinging to it, 50 to 65 min. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes (the cranberry syrup in the bottom of the pan will be too thick if you wait longer). Run a knife between the cake and sides of the pan. Place a serving plate over the cake and invert the whole thing. Remove the pan or bottom of the springform. Let cool for at least 15 min. more before serving.