Friday, July 29, 2005

Personality Types, Upside Down Cake

I just took my Myers-Briggs personality test. This is something everyone else in the world did about five years ago, and I remember lots of conversations that hinged around the magic letters I, E, S, N, F, P, J. I also remember thinking the whole thing was pretty stupid. But I took the test, and it turns out that I'm a ESFJ--the "provider guardian." Martha Stewart was a ESFJ, you know, and George Washington, too.

In terms of practical expression, I think that the ESFJ manifests itself most obviously in my overwhelming urge to bake for others. This began more than a decade ago, when I was just a wee lass toting brownies (made from Seventeen Magazine's recipe) to the children's librarian at the public library. Now I bake for neighbors (banana bread, more brownies) and dinner guests (upside down cake) and new acquaintances who invite me to brunch (blueberry muffins). I'm pretty certain I do it because people like you more when you knock on their door holding sweets, because nobody, nobody does it anymore. Also, it doesn't matter what you are making for dinner provided you have baked a proper dessert, so it gets you off the hook a little bit in that respect, too.

I've already given you a dynamite birthday cake recipe (see earlier post) but for everyday appeal you should master the upside down cake. It's incredibly versatile, since you can use any fruit on top. The classic pineapple is always a winner, but it works well (and is equally delicious) with nectarines, peaches or plums. Best of all, this cake can be a dessert dessert or a brunch dessert or a breakfast dessert.

Upside Down Cake
(adapted from The Best Recipe cookbook)
You should make this cake in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, if you have one. If not, a 9x3 inch pan will do, but make sure you butter it really, really well, to avoid the embarrasing moment when you flip your cake right-side-up and all the fruit clings neatly to the inside of the pan. Argh!
Topping:
4 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
Fruit, sliced into manageable slices (4 peaches or nectarines or 5 plums or 1 small pineapple)
Cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 Tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, seperated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
If you are using the cast iron skillet, you can make the topping right in there and then pour the cake batter over the top and pop the whole thing in the oven. If you are using a cake pan, you'll have to make the topping in a seperate pan then pour it into the cake pan.
Melt the butter in the cast iron skillet set over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the brown sugar and cook until the mixture is foamy and pale, about 4 minutes. Arrange the fruit on top of the sugar mixture in a pretty design (I go for a concentric circle). Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt in a medium bowl. Cream the butter in electric mixer at medium speed, gradually adding in one cup of the granulated sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla, reduce the mixer speed to low, and add dry mixture and milk, alternately in three or four batches, ending with the dry ingredients. Continue mixing until batter is just smooth. Transfer the mixture to a big bowl, clean the bowl of your electric mixer (unless you are one of those lucky ducks who has two bowls for their mixer) and then beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the remaining two tablespoons of sugar and beat until the whites form stiff peaks.
Take a quarter of your beaten whites and fold them into the batter. Fold in the remaining whites in two additions, folding until no white streaks remain. Pour batter onto the fruit, taking care not to disturb the pretty design you made, and pop the cake into the oven. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
Remove from oven and let sit two minutes. Place a serving platter over the pan and hold tightly. If you are using the cast iron skillet, it's a good idea to wear an oven mitt on both hands when you're doing this flippy thing. Trust me on this one. Flip! The first couple times you do this, you might want to flip privately, in case something goes wrong or you discover you didn't butter your cake pan enough (see above) but when you've gotten it down, it's fun to do it in front of an audience, because the cake is absolutely lovely and impressive when turned out.

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