Upside-Down Apple-Molasses Cake

Do you have a cast iron skillet? It’s one of those things that everyone is “supposed” to have. Every time I see it mentioned in a cookbook or food article it’s referred to as “the only pan you’ll ever need.” You’re not really considered as someone serious about food unless you have one in your kitchen. Such pressure!

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Truth is, a cast iron skillet is a great pan. Not just because it retains heat well and is naturally non-stick (provided you season it appropriately) but also because it’s hefty and rugged. When you pull this hunk of iron out of the kitchen cabinet or drawer, it’s like you’re saying “now we’re in business.”

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Here’s the only problem, though. What if you bought one, all excited you joined the ranks of the so-called serious cooks, and then you never really used it? It’s just too heavy. The handle gets hot. You’re afraid to wash it afterwards – aren’t you supposed to just rub it with salt or something?

Well, that was me for a long time. I had a perfectly good cast iron skillet but the only thing it provided me with was guilt. It took me a while to accept the fact that this was not supposed to be a skillet I should use often because…this is not 1873. That this is more of a specialized tool, appropriate for certain recipes. That eased my guilt considerably, so now when I do use it, I love it, and when I don’t use it, well, I just forget about it.

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This recipe is one of those recipes that call for a cast-iron skillet. Though that’s not what made me try it out. The recipe had me at “upside-down.” Seriously. How could you say no to any upside-down cake when you know it means caramel(!) that soaks the bottom-then-top of the cake?

This cake is easy to make and it’s a little dangerous. It comes out dark and seductive looking. When you put your fork through it, it’s toffee-sticky but tender. And when you eat it, its rich, lightly spiced crumb sticks to the roof of your mouth, unwilling to let you go.

Like I said. It’s a little dangerous.

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Upside-Down Apple-Molasses Cake – Slightly adapted from Bonappetit.com

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup  molasses (you can use mild-flavored molasses if you prefer)
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
2 teaspoons grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole milk
3-4 Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apples, (about 2 pounds), peeled

Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt butter in a 9-inch or 10-inch cast-iron skillet (you can use a different ovenproof skillet if you don’t have a cast-iron one). Take skillet off the heat and set it aside. Whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl.

Whisk the molasses, honey egg, ginger, and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in the sour cream, then the milk. Gradually whisk in the dry ingredients, then 3 tablespoons of the melted butter from skillet. Set aside. The batter will be thick.

Place a peeled apple on a work surface stem up. Cut a large piece of the apple from one side, leaving core behind. Rotate the apple and repeat twice for a total of 3 large pieces (a triangular core will remain). Repeat with remaining apples.

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Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar to butter in skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar just begins to darken and caramelize, about 2-3 minutes. Be careful because the sugar can quickly burn.

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Add the apples flat side down and immediately turn them rounded side down. Cook the apples rounded sides down for 3 minutes, then turn over and cook flat sides down until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes longer.

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Space the apples evenly in skillet flat side down and pour the cake batter over. If the batter is too thick to pour, use a spatula to gently spread it evenly over the apples.

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Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 30-40 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the skillet for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a plate. If any of the apples stay in the skillet, just use a spoon to take them out and place them back on the cake.

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