Upside-down cakes are one of those things that make me feel impossibly French. (They have a certain je ne sais quoi don't they?) Something about a rustic fruit-filled dessert baked in a cast iron skillet and then flipped out onto a pan seems so complicated and fussy but in actuality it is absurdly easy which is why I love them so.
This version is filled with rhubarb (duh) that cooks down (just barely) and then caramelizes into a layer of jammy deliciousness. It sits a top a buttery cobbler-esq crust/cake layer that envelopes the filling and manages to be both the perfect contrast and utterly complimentary to the rhubarb topping. In a nutshell it's the perfect dessert for alfresco eating.
Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
Recipe adapted from Food 52
I tweaked a little (I couldn't help myself) by dialing back the butter (I like things in even sticks), swapping some all-purpose flour for rye, and using some almond extract in place of the vanilla. I think these changes really elevate the cake into something ethereal.
Serves 8 to 10
1 ¼ cup sugar, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 stick and 4 tablespoons (2 sticks total) cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ¾ -inch pieces
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour or 1 1/4 cups rye and 1 1/4 cups all-purpose
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Ice cream or whipped cream for serving, optional
Heat oven to 375° F. Melt 3/4 cup of the sugar, 4 tablespoons butter, lemon zest and juice, vanilla or almond extract, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a 9-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter and sugar have melted together, add the rhubarb pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender and slightly caramelized, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your rhubarb stalks.
Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add remaining butter, and using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Like Phyllis Grant would say, make like you’re snapping your fingers. Add milk and eggs and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms. If your eggs are on the small side, you may need an extra splash of milk for the dough to come together.
Place pieces of dough over the hot rhubarb mixture, trying to cover the entire surface. It will feel a little like you’re making a cobbler, but the dough will rise up and fill in any holes you’ve left. Bake on a baking sheet until the cake is golden and cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and let the cake rest for about 10 minutes. Place a large, flat serving platter on top of the skillet and invert quickly and carefully. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like, but it’s just as good plain.