Skillet Apricot Upside Down Cake

by Carilyn on October 7, 2021

My mom loves apricots. When we were little, she would feed us apricot nectar any time we got sick, always saying it was one of the few fond memories she had from her tumultuous childhood. She planted an apricot tree in our side yard, ensuring we had a bumper crop of her favorite fruit even though we lived in the desert.

I’ve never loved apricots, but I love my mom, and it has been a very rough year for her. After falling last August and breaking her hip, she has been mostly bed-bound for the past 13 months. We tried all sorts of physical therapy, but since she is almost totally blind and deaf, it was nearly impossible for her to communicate with the overworked physical therapists, especially with the added barriers of masks. Adding to the strain, the effort of getting her to/from, and in/out of the car and the facility, left her weeping with exhaustion and frustration. It has been heartbreaking to watch.

About 2 months ago, I decided to just do PT with her at her house. No getting in and out of a car. No struggling with getting her into the building. No lingering effects from overworking her incredibly weak body only two days a week from which it took days recover. I started working with her every day, 15 minutes at first, and then slowly increasing. Miraculously she grew stronger and stronger! Her mind became sharper. Her mood improved. Her ankle swelling and skin discoloration subsided. Within a month she was almost back to where she had been before she fell. I couldn’t believe it! Well, I could, because we all know the power of physical activity. But even as a former pro athlete, I have to admit I was astounded.

But back to the apricots. When we first started doing daily PT, my mom would cry. It was awful. I felt like the worst daughter of all time. I knew we needed to do it, but it was simply heartrending to force an elderly woman to do even the simplest of exercises while she sat there and whimpered. The only thing that kept me going was my absolute commitment to my most wonderful mother, and my firm belief that exercise is a magic bullet. To assuage my guilt, I started promising my mom “treats” if she would do her PT. As the weeks passed, and she felt better and better, she started requesting specific things, including apricot nectar. I had honestly forgotten that it existed. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her drink it, and I haven’t been a child for a very long time. But clearly something about where she is in her life now brought the comfort memory back to her, the feeling of being cared for, and in turn, caring for others. I bought her the nectar, and she was delighted. One day while at Whole Foods, I saw the most beautiful apricots. Normally, I would just breeze on by, but that day I bought some. They were plump and fragrant, and I was back in the yard of my childhood home, picking apricots with my Mom. My plan was just to take her a few and maybe get her to tell me some stories. By the time I got home, though, I had decided to turn the apricots into a cake. We all know that everything is better in cake form! And she ate two pieces in one sitting – something we hadn’t seen her do in over a year!

Since I made this cake for my mom, it has become one of my most requested desserts from friends and family. When I couldn’t find good apricots, I substituted peaches. More recently, I used plums. The cake part is very mild and delicate, so it pairs well with almost any type of stone fruit. Make it for someone you love, today.

 

Skillet Apricot Upside Down Cake

(Adapted from Epicurious)

Cast iron skillet, or other heavy duty skillet that can go in the oven

 

Topping

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

10 small apricots cut in half and pitted

 

Cake

1 3/4 cup AP flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs at room temperature

1/2 cup greek yogurt (you can substitute sour cream)

1/4 cup whole milk

Slivered almonds (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 

Topping

Heat butter skillet over medium heat until fully melted. Reduce heat to low and add the brown sugar, making sure it is spread evenly over the melted butter. Let it cook without stirring for 3 minutes – not all the sugar will melt, that is okay. Remove from heat and carefully arrange the apricot halves, skin side up (cut side in the sugar), in a circular pattern around the pan until the whole bottom of the skillet is covered (like a flower). Set aside.

Cake

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at time, beating for a minute between, and then for another 2 minutes to get the mixture very light and voluminous. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts, and beat for another minute.

Reduce speed to low, and add one third of the flour, then half of the yogurt. Add another third of the flour, then the other half of the yogurt.

Add the milk, and finish with the last third of the flour.

Flour – yogurt- flour- yogurt – milk – flour.

Beat until just combined. You want the batter to be light and airy, so do not overmix.

Gently spoon batter over apricots taking care to not disturb them.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes. The cake is down when a skewer stuck in the center comes out clean.

Immediately after removing from oven, very, very carefully (sugar topping is extremely hot), invert cake onto a large serving plate and let cool. You don’t want to wait or the sugar topping will stick to the pan when it sets. Scatter slivered almonds on top, if desired.

Serve as is or with whipped cream or ice cream.

 

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A looooooong time ago, way before I became a pro runner but after I’d gone on hiatus from practicing law, when I had new babies at home and was finding myself cooking ALL THE TIME, I hosted a cooking segment on the local news. Part of my job was to come up with a theme, and then cook dishes that went with it. Living on the border, themes that incorporated fun and creative spins on the Mexican dishes we all grew up with proved to be the most popular. And one of the absolute, hands down, favorite dishes was Mango Salad. I know, snooze, right? Frankly, I don’t even like mango. But something about this “salad” (Jello is magically transformed from “dessert” to “salad” in the South simply by adding fruit – life lesson for the day) just worked for people. It came from the incredibly popular Seasoned With Sun, published by the Junior League of El Paso, a cookbook that has stayed in circulation for decades. Even now, recipes from this book will show up at potlucks, picnics, fancy dinners, and intimate brunches on the regular. And this salad continues to make the rounds.

As I said, one of the weirdest (and there are maaaannnny) southern culinary traditions is serving jello + fruit and calling it a salad. Sometimes, as a nod to real salad, people will put one leaf of iceberg lettuce underneath each serving, but that is really the extent of anything vegetal in this recipe. I guess the large can of mango that is in it counts for something, but please know this leans more towards a fresh, sweet accompaniment to a meal rather than an opportunity to get one of your daily servings of vegetables.

And at the time in my life when I made this recipe on television, that was a-okay with me. When you are breastfeeding twins, all food, and I mean ALL food, is wanted, needed, and devoured. Especially appreciated, though, were recipes that were easy, delicious, and satisfied multiple levels of taste – sweet, tangy, substantive, and easy to eat while you were imprisoned on the couch for hours while two miniature milk vampires drained you dry. I honestly believe that on more than one occasion I ate this entire salad by myself – and it comes in full-size bundt pan.

Woman eats world, y’all!

 

Mango Salad

adapted only slightly from Seasoned With Sun, Junior League of El Paso

 

3   3-oz. packages of lemon Jello

1 26-29 oz. can of mangoes, in syrup

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese

juice of 1 lime

boiling water

shredded/grated coconut for toping, optional

 

Drain syrup from can of mangoes into a measuring cup. Add boiling water to equal 3 cups of liquid. Stir in lemon Jello and allow to dissolve. Set aside.

In a blender, combine mangoes and cream cheese. Blend until completely smooth. Add in gelatin mixture and the juice of the lime. Blend again.

Pour mixture into a well-oiled (easiest is to use unflavored baking spray) bundt pan, individual custard dishes, or a 13 x 9 pan. Chill for at least 4 hours up to overnight. Flip onto a decorative plate. Delicious with grated/shredded coconut.

 

 

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