Apple Rosemary Upside-Down Cake

This was my second attempt at apple-rosemary cake, but I don’t think I documented the results that time (it’s been a while). On my first attempt, I followed this recipe to the letter: and while I liked the topping, I found the cake too dry and lacking in flavour, so this time I made some changes.

I kept the topping pretty much as is–I tend to use a bit less salt than most recipes call for, and I used two apples this time, because the first time they shrank so much that they looked skimpy on the finished cake. I used honeycrisp apples, as the recipe calls for, although I noticed that most other similar recipes specify granny smith. For the cake, I used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for plain apple upside-down cake. (ATK is strict with access to their recipes if you don’t have one of their cookbooks, but you can find the one I used here, if you’re willing to do a free trial or you already have a subscription: It suited my taste perfectly–a little like a pound cake in texture, although a bit lighter, and soaked up the caramel topping. It was a bit too soft in the middle, but this was the result of either because I didn’t cook the apples beforehand–the PBS recipe says not to, the ATK recipe says do–or because I didn’t leave it in the oven quite long enough. This is actually a common issue with my oven, and I find that many of my projects require 10 to 15 minutes longer than the recipe specifies. (I have no idea whether this is because of some issue such as altitude or humidity, or if it’s just that my oven is is a bit crap.)

Here are most of my ingredients. I got to use fresh rosemary from the garden, which always makes me feel sophisticated even though where I am our rosemary grows like a weed and requires little care. (Although it does have to be cleaned and checked for gremlins before use, unlike store-bought herbs.) The jar on the left-hand side contains light brown sugar–I should have opened it.


For future reference, I will rarely include flour in any picture of ingredients, because I keep my all-purpose flour in a massive 2-gallon jar in a corner and it’s usually too heavy to move about.


I used a 9-inch cast iron skillet to bake the cake in, because it allowed me to make the caramel and then just layer the apples and pour the batter on; the PBS recipe allows for the use of a cake pan, if you prefer it, and the ATK recipe actually specifies that. The recipe(s) involve a few steps, but none of them are particularly tricky. Here’s the caramel:


The apples go straight in over the caramel. I like putting them in a pinwheel pattern, but this is by no means necessary. The batter went straight over them–the batter barely covered the top of the apples, and I actually had to smooth it over with a spatula a few time to make sure the apples were all coated properly. The cake rose enough so that the apples were still more towards the top of the cake when it was turned out onto a plate. The finished cake reached just about to the top of the pan, but the only overflow was a little bit of the caramel that bubbled up near the handle.


The completed cake, before turning it out onto a plate and after. I let it cool in the pan about 15 minutes before turning it out.

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This is definitely becoming one of my go-to desserts; it’s easy, relatively quick, requires little clean-up, and I really like the hint of savoury from the rosemary and salt. My father will not say that he liked it, but he had two large slices and asked what it was called, which is usually a sign that he’ll ask for me to make another one at some point.

An Ode to Bread

Comfort food. In American pop culture, we interpret this as: fatty, salty, sugary, bad for you. Something you shouldn’t have, but when you’ve had a bad day, well damn it, you’ve earned it. But what about actual comfort? What food makes you feel better when you have it? Not guilty, not stuffed, not drowsy, but — good?

Comfort food for me is bread. I’m a starch-driven machine even on my best days. Buckets of pasta. Chips. Pretzels. Almost literally endless quantities of popcorn. Good bread is the high-octane version of my simple carbohydrate primary fuel.

Good bread is fresh bread. I prefer it with texture, with rich scents, warm, with butter. I grew up in a household where my father was the (excellent) cook. My mother could technically feed us in his absence but it wasn’t pretty. However. She baked. The sticky feel of dough slowly turning into the smooth miracle of a shaped loaf is an experience so deep and early that only my hands remember it.

Good bread, while it is baking and for a while afterwards, fills your space with a smell that in itself is nourishing. Any yeasted bread will produce this smell but I am fond of using sesame oil during the last rise, when a sheen over the surface of the dough will keep it from drying and cracking as it rests before baking, and it adds a dimensionality to the fresh bread aroma that might be described as exotic or heady or but however you phrase it you will never want to stop smelling it.

Good bread is a baguette from a market vendor in Barcelona, crisp-shelled with a tender, chewy crumb, eaten in chunks with salami and a blood orange while you sit on the quay with your friend and look out at the busy port and feel drowsy and lucky and sunned.

Good bread is sandwich bread from the store stacked around thick slices of cheddar, eaten with grimy hands on top of a flat rock in the middle of your hike that’s taking longer than you thought. You’re saving the apple for later.

Good bread is the champagne bubbles of sourdough popping under your fingers as you work flour into the sponge.

Good bread is a slice from yesterday’s loaf, nutty and chewy, folded around a still-hot piece of bacon and taken like the sacrament as you walk to work in chilly pre-dawn light.

Comfort food. I love that phrase, which sounds like what a friend might bring to your house when you’re sick. Bread in particular comforts not just with taste and texture but with the act of its creation. It is no exaggeration when people describe kneading dough as “grounding”: you are gently reaching, again and again and again, through the medium of one of humanity’s oldest nourishing substances, with your hands, to the earth.