Recently I stopped at Whole Foods to pick up some stinky cheese and taste-test all their gluten-free crackers, for research. On the way to the cheese counter these velvety little apricots shouted across the room at me and I was powerless over their beauty. I am a little embarrasses to say that I wasn’t familiar with Black Velvet Apricots, which have the deep color of plums, the lusciously soft skin of a peach and the glorious flavor or an apricot. What will nature think of next? I have seen them in other stores recently, but none are as deep in color or as juicy as the ones that Whole Foods is sourcing. These came from California, because nothing this gorgeous, ripe and flavorful is being grown locally, yet. The growing season here in Minnesota is just in its first days. Maybe come August we’ll be plucking fruit from trees.
I am not gluten-free, as you may have guessed from the content of this blog, but I am doing more and more g-f baking. I have several friends who are celiac or have gluten sensitivities, so I’ve been experimenting with making tasty treats for them. I dove into the mysterious world of g-f baking when we decided to add gluten-free breads to our books. As a baker it was like being blind folded and set into a pantry of products I ‘d never used before. Just the kind of challenge I love. Once the terror subsided I realized that this stuff can be just as easy and tasty as baking with wheat. I have been passing off breads, cakes, cookies and more to my family, none of whom need to eat a gluten-free diet. If they can’t tell the difference, then I know I’ve got this down, because they are super critical of everything I make. I’ve spoiled them.
The cake is inspired by one of my favorite pastry chefs, Karen DeMasco. The upside-down cake is a classic for good reason, but she has made it even richer with almond flour and lots of brown sugar. I’ve made some changes to her recipe, but the essence is still hers. This is one of the few recipes I’ve made, so far, that is an easy switch from gluten full to gluten-free, in fact it is exactly the same recipe. I used the Thomas Keller product Cup 4 Cup All-purpose Flour for this cake. I really like this product for this cake, but find it doesn’t work so well in many of my bread recipes. The only problem with this flour is the price, but it is worth it for something so delicious and you could never buy this cake for so little money. This is how I justify it to myself.
Black Velvet Apricot Upside-down Cake, inspired by a cake from Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking.
The caramel for the pan:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed tight
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
10 Black Velvet Apricots – if you can find the Black Velvet variety you will have this rich colored cake. If you find the more traditional apricots, the cake will still be delicious, but lighter in color. You can also use peaches, plums or other stone fruit. Actually, I’ve made this cake with pineapple, cherries, mixed berries and anything else I have a craving for.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for Gluten-Free version, substitute Cup 4 Cup gluten free all-purpose flour)
1 cup almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F
Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan and line with a buttered piece of parchment. I lined the pan with a big sheet of parchment, because it prevents all the tasty bits at the bottom from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
To make the caramel for the bottom of the pan, heat the sugar, butter, heavy cream and salt over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Pour the caramel in the parchment lined pan. Halve and pit the apricots and place them in the caramel, cut side up.
To make the cake:
In a bowl, sift together the flour, almond, baking powder, and salt.
In a mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar and vanilla extract, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed until they are completely combined, repeat with each egg. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and mix on slow just until it is evenly combined. Spread the batter in the pan over the apricots. Put the pan on a baking sheet, just in case the caramel bubble over the top of the pan.
Bake for about 45 to 55 minutes. This is one place I noticed a slight difference between the gluten full and gluten-free cakes, the one with g-f flour seemed to take a bit longer to bake. Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes.
Invert onto a serving platter.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream or nothing at all.