There aren't enough words to describe how delicious this Meyer Lemon Upside-Down Cake is. I've been wanting to make an upside-down citrus cake for at least a year and finally decided my first one would be with Meyer lemons because I love these lemons and season is short. It turned out to be better than expected. The brown sugar and butter combined with the lemons create a topping that tastes like lemonade; and the sharp citrus goes perfectly with the sweet spiced cake.
Why I Love Lemon Upside-Down Cake
The first upside-down I ever had was a pineapple upside-down cake, a true classic. As a kid I loved it, but as an adult, it was too sweet for me and the cake was usually just so-so. At least the versions that I ate. I made upside-down cakes with other fruits and while they looked delicious and tasted good, they were still too sweet for me.
I've wanted to make a citrus upside-down cake for a while. The pictures I kept seeing looked so delicious and I love trying new things. For my first cake, I kept going back and forth between orange or lemon, to peel the fruit or leave it on. I read reviews of other cakes where people either liked the use of the whole fruit or they thought it was too bitter. What I discovered is that if the peel is thin leaving it on is a good and tasty choice. The brown sugar and butter topping combined with the lemons to create a delicious lemonade syrup. It was so good that I used a spoon to small spatula to scrape out the syrup remaining in the pan after I inverted the cake. The tart lemon was the perfect contrast to the sweet spiced cake.
While the orange or lemon debate was raging, I focused on the cake and discovered that adding spices was the key to making a sweet cake with depth of the flavor that paired well with the sweet topping. This cake has nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom. If you make this recipe I encourage you to experiment with your favorite spices.
How to Make Upside-Down Cake from Scratch
The history of the upside-down cake goes back to the 1800s when it was called a skillet cake. Prepared in cast iron skillets, fruit and sugar were added to the bottom of the pan while a simple cake batter was placed on top. In the 1920s the pineapple upside-down cake was popularized by the Dole Pineapple Company which ran a contest featuring the pineapple. And based on my childhood memories and recent online searches it's still very popular. It's an easy and simple cake to make and always looks pretty and festive.
I chose Meyer lemons because the peel is thin, so you don't need to peel them and there is just a hint of bitterness when they're baked in the brown sugar butter syrup. If you are using orange, lemon or other fruit that has a really thick peel, I recommend removing the peel after you have sliced the fruit. The bitterness of thick pith would overwhelm the taste of the cake and sweet topping. Removing the peel after the fruit is sliced makes it easier to evenly slice the fruit.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. As the oven is heating, cut the butter into 8 pieces, scatter them across the bottom of the pan and place the pan in the oven until the butter is melted. Use a pastry brush to brush the butter up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the melted butter and use your fingers to evenly spread the brown sugar across the bottom of the pan.
Cut the lemon slices 1/4-inch thick with a sharp knife or a mandoline. I have a mandoline, but it is not sharp enough to evenly cut soft-sided fruit. I tried, but it was easier to slice the fruit with a sharp knife. Arrange the lemons in the pan overlapping them to completely cover the bottom. Gently scrape the cake batter on top of the lemons and use an offset spatula to smooth and level the batter.
The cake is done when a cake skewer is inserted in the center of the cake and comes out clean or with just a few cake crumbs attached, or the temperate in the center of the cake is about 203 degrees.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, run a thin knife between the cake and sides of the pan and invert the cake onto a plate or flat board.
This cake tastes amazing. The syrup is sweet-tart and the cooked lemons are tender and a great combination with the sweet cake.
Please try this recipe. Meyer lemon season will last just a few more weeks. During this time of social distancing, it may be hard to get to the grocery store, but if you get the opportunity to get some Meyer lemons.
Meyer Lemon Upside-Down Cake
- 9-inch round cake pan
- 1/4 cup (112 grams) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup (165 grams) packed light brown sugar
- 3 Meyer lemons sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (114 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. As the oven is heating, cut the butter into 4 pieces, place them in a 9-inch round cake pan and place the pan in the oven. Melt the butter until it just melted. With a pastry brush, brush the butter up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter. Layer the lemon slices on top of the brown sugar, overlapping the lemons.
- Place the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom in a medium bowl and whisk until the ingredients are well combined, about 30 seconds.
- Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Zest the lemon on top of the sugar, until you have what looks like 2 teaspoons. Use your fingers to rub the zest in to the sugar. Add the butter and vanilla. Beat the butter and sugar mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add one egg at a time, beating after each addition. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until well combined. There may be some flour on the sides of the bowl - that is okay. Add all the buttermilk and mix on medium speed until combined. Add the remaining flour and and mix on low speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for another 10 seconds to ensure all the ingredients are well combined
- Gently pour the batter over the sliced lemons and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to release the cake and invert it onto a platter.