Caramel Upside-down Cake
This is a cake for all seasons; in the warmer months it can be made with the amazing Queen Garnet plums, as it is in this recipe; in the cooler the same method and ingredients are used to bring out the best in apples, pears and quince. Whichever fruit you use, the flavour is enhanced and enriched by the layer of caramel which coats the bottom of the pan; then, being an upside down cake, this becomes the topping for the fruit once the cake is turned out of its tin.
The first step is to make the caramel - this is a process which requires few ingredients but a good deal of care - boiling sugar can give very nasty burns; it's not difficult but you do need to pay attention. The cake mixture itself couldn't be easier, it's based on the classic pound cake combination from one of my great fruit heroes - Jane Grigson. I have adapted this basic mixture to incorporate spices and flavourings to complement the fruit and the season; in this case I've added the warmth of ginger, and cinnamon.
175g caster sugar
5-6 large plums
175g soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
75g self raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon
1 heaped tablespoon ground almonds
For the caramel:
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a dry saucepan and then gently pour the water over until the sugar is completely wetted with no dry spots. Cook the mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and then continue to cook, swirling the pan to distribute the colour - be vigilant - this can happen quickly and sugar burns are horribly painful! You are looking for a deep amber colour - once this is present - remove the pan from the heat cover your hand with a cloth if needed and and add 4 tablespoons (⅓ cup water) using the longest handled spoon you own. The caramel may crackle and spit, hence the need for the cloth. Keep stirring and you should have a clear smooth caramel - if not return to the heat and stir until it becomes smooth. Pour into the base of a 23cm greased cake tin.
Stone the plums; cut the halves into wedges and place them into the caramel layer on the bottom of the cake tin - remember this will be the top of the cake...
For the cake:
Put all ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
Gently spoon the mixture over the fruit, taking care not to dislodge the pattern, smooth the top with a spatula and bake in a 190c oven for 45 minutes until the sponge is golden brown. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp knife around the edge of the tin. Leave for about 5 minutes - not too long as the caramel will start to harden and make removal tricky.
Invert onto a serving plate and enjoy! Perfect warm as a pudding or later as a cake...