Recently, I made a conscious effort to take my recipe developing skills up a notch and play with ingredient ratios. That is to say, building a recipe from the ground up, with no bedrock of predecessors’ recipes. It’s scary and potentially unnecessary, but I see it as an integral part to my food education.
I learn a lot through trial and error. How much sugar is really necessary? Do eggs really need to be fully incorporated after each addition? What would happen if I used a different flour? Perhaps the most interesting scientific inquiry I’ve answered in my baking experimentation has been, “How many failed cakes does it take to make Maria cry?” The answer, of course, being, “Four. Four failed cakes will make Maria cry.”
I hope to answer a lot of scientific baking questions in my Baking Basics series, so that there are fewer tears in the future, both mine and yours.
For this cake, I wanted to make a simple upside down cake. With raspberries. And cornmeal. And all I had to do was find someone else’s cornmeal cake recipe and slap it all together. But instead, I wanted to learn about how to build a cake recipe. I spent an hour or so tweaking the ratios of my ingredients: flour to sugar, eggs to butter, liquids to sugar. And then I had to throw in some leavening, which should have been simple enough. A teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour. Easy.
Except… my cake came out sunken in the middle. What’s up with that? I had a suspicion it was a leavening issue, but just to be sure, I baked the cake at a higher temperature to see if it would solve my problem. Still Sink Hole City.
I pondered on science for a moment. Since I had replaced part of the all-purpose (wheat) flour, which contains structure-forming proteins, aka gluten, with corn meal (no gluten), perhaps there weren’t enough protein structures to hold up all the gases being created by the baking powder. I noticed the cake was puffing up, but then collapsing toward the end of baking. With the next round of testing, I cut the baking powder in half so that there was only a teaspoon per cup of wheat flour. Aaand…. goodbye sink hole, hello sigh of relief.
If only the baking powder problem could have solved the fact that raspberry upside down cake is decidedly unpretty. In fact, I think all upside down cakes are less than attractive, unless you have a fruit that keeps its shape pretty well (pineapple, pears, apples, peaches, plums). Berries turn into sludge. Delicious sludge, but sludge. Thankfully the sunshiney interior and summery sweet flavor of the cake makes up for its lack of curb appeal.
- ¾ cup (170 grams) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
- ⅓ cup (70 grams) vanilla sugar (or regular granulated sugar)
- 2½ cups (310 grams) fresh raspberries
- 1¼ cup (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (105 grams) yellow cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs (100 grams), at room temperature
- 3 large egg yolks (60 grams), at room temperature
- ⅔ cup (165 grams) whole milk, at room temperature
- Place an oven rack in center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Use 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to generously coat the sides and bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan. The sides only need skimmed with butter, but really slather it on the bottom. Use the full two tablespoons!
- Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the bottom of the buttered cake pan and shake to distribute evenly. Place raspberries over the bottom of the pan, fitting them together as tightly as possible. They don't need to be arranged nicely, because they will lose their shape during baking anyway.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining ¾ cup (170 grams) of butter until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and cream until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating until fully incorporated after each addition, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl after every one or two additions. When the last egg has been incorporated, turn the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture. Slowly pour in half of the milk. Add another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, then the remaining flour mixture. Stop mixing when there is just a little bit of flour still unmixed. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and stir a couple of times by hand, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to get the ingredients evenly distributed. Don't overmix; just 2-3 turns should do it.
- Pour the cake batter over the raspberries and use a spatula to spread the surface even. Tap the pan firmly on the counter two or three times to release any air. Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes, until the top is golden brown, the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, and/or a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, no more!
- Run an offset spatula around the edge of the cake to loosen any sticky bits. Place another wire rack on top of the cake pan, then invert the cake and wire rack to turn the cake out (the fruit will be on top). Let it cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. It is delicious eaten warm or when cooled completely.