I am in love with what happens to apples when they're baked. In it's natural state, an apple is firm, true to it's shape, solid and crisp throughout. Once baked, however, this persona slowly surrenders to a more mellow and tender self. It gives away easily under your bite, soft and sweet, instead of fighting back with a crisp crunch. Its sugars condense and an intense apple flavor remains, that is eager to pair with warm fall flavors like cinnamon, ginger, and molasses.
Still in the spirit of fall, I wanted to use my orchard-picked apples in a different way than in a crisp or in the muffins that I had just written about. I wanted something more festive, more complex in flavor. Gingerbread has always been a favorite of mine because of these reasons, and to pair it with baked-in apples made it a dish that I could not pass by.
It's an easy cake. It bodes a festive look, yes, but that only equates to its greatness of the flavor, not the level of difficulty to make it. And, with all gingerbreads, especially this one, whipped cream (homemade, please!) is an absolute must. It's practically begging to be on your Holiday Table, so go make one and share it with your loved ones who deserve it most.
Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Karen Bates at the Philo Apple Farm via the New York Times
Also on smittenkitchen.com
4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
4 apples (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch wedges
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Very softly whipped cream
Make the topping: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 10-inch cake pan. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, four minutes, then swirl in salt. Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of your cake pan. Make circles of overlapping apple slices on top of the caramel. Chop any remaining slices and place them in the gaps.
Make the batter: Using a mixer, blend 1/2 cup butter and the sugar on medium-low speed. Increase the speed to high and cream until light and fluffy.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, molasses, honey and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Alternate mixing the flour and molasses mixtures into the butter mixture, adding the next once the last has been incorporated.
Pour the batter into the pan. Bake at least 45 to 50 minutes (thanks to commenter klp for reminding me this took a bit longer) or until a wooden tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a platter (one that will catch spills, unlike what you see in the pictures above).
Serve warm or cool with very softly whipped cream.