Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cranberry-Orange Upside Down Cake for Heidi

Late last night, my colleague and friend Heidi and I were e-mailing back and forth. It was getting on to midnight and both of us commented that we were having a stressful week. Like me, Heidi loves to bake and she agreed that baking is a great way to relieve stress. She said, "I'm in complete agreement on baking as a tool for calming the nerves: the concentration required in following a recipe precisely AND understanding the why behind that precision and technique, the cleaning up during the baking, smelling it finally coming into its own, pulling it out of the oven to see what it's become, letting it cool and finishing it off. It's a clean serenity with a big delicious pay-off at the end." Wow! Heidi's wordsmithing captured the essence of one of our favorite pastimes.

Although Heidi is twenty years my junior, it's comforting to know that certain pursuits cross generational boundries. Of course Heidi and I have other things in common. We graduated from the same college, we serve together on a not-for-profit board, we're both consultants serving the not-for-profit sector, we're both professional writers, and neither of us operates with a hidden agenda - what you see is what you get. Although Heidi is a "foodie", she also has concerns for those who are less fortunate, and especially for those who go hungry. She has been directly involved with providing nutritional lunches to low-income children. She has always said that if just one child comes back years from now to tell her that the food she helped to provide had a lasting positive effect, her efforts will have been worthwhile.

Heidi is a busy mom too, with a very active four-year old. While she enjoys baking from scratch, recipes that are streamlined have a certain appeal. This simple recipe "takes the cake". It can be made on a whim because it uses melted butter - you don't have to wait for the butter to soften - and it only requires a hand-mixer. Other fruit - blueberries, peaches, pineapple, bananas - even well-drained canned apricots - can be substituted. You can also swap lemon rind and extract for the orange or just add 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.


Generous tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 12-ounce bag (about 3 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum free
1/4 teaspoon non-iodized salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons milk
Grated rind of one large navel orange, colored part only
1 tablespoon pure orange extract

Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt the stick of butter and set aside. Generously grease a 9" cake pan with the tablespoon of butter. Spread the cranberries over the bottom and sprinkle with 1 cup of the sugar (reserve the other cup).

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs with an electric hand-mixer on high-speed until foamy. Add the remaining cup of sugar, the flour, baking powder, salt, melted butter, milk, orange rind and orange extract. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute until just combined. The batter will be thick.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Place a large cake plate on top of the cake pan and flip over. The cake may be served warm or at room temperature. You can gussie it up with a scoop of ice cream, but I like it plain. It makes a nice coffeecake as well as a dessert.