Apricot Caramel Upside-Down Cake

I’m one of those people who is chronically unable to accept compliments regarding my cooking. I can go further: I am a chronic apologist for my own food. This is such a consistent issue that I made a New Year’s resolution to apologize less and say thank you more.

Resolutions are great in theory but difficult to implement. Last Saturday I baked an apricot caramel upside-down cake for a party. Lovely friend Sophie helped herself to a slice and sat down beside me. “It’s a weird color because I used brown sugar,” I said. Sophie said nothing, and placed a small morsel in her mouth. “It looks dense, but that’s because the caramel soaked into the cake a little. I think I flipped it too early,” I said. With great concentration, Sophie continued to eat her cake. “I was hungover when I baked this cake, so I’m not sure if it’s my best effort,” I said. Sophie said nothing. She delicately took a bit of soft caramelized apricot on her fork and ate it. “Do you think it’s too sweet? I’m worried that it’s too sweet,” I said.

Sophie turned to me. “Let’s start this conversation again. This time, you will only praise your cake,” she said. I thought for a moment. “This is a beautiful cake,” I said. “The apricots are like a sunset over a South Pacific island, turning the water gold. The cake is like a perfumed Spring breeze, like happy memories of childhood,” I said. Sophie looked at me and laughed. She said, “Maybe you should say nothing at all. Then, when someone compliments your cake, you can say, ‘Thank you.’”

Wise words. So here is my cake. I hope you like it.


For the cake

10-12 ripe apricots, halved and pitted

125 g butter (about ¼ pound), plus additional butter for the cake pan

3 eggs, separated

½ cup caster sugar (about 50 g)

½ cup packed brown sugar (about 100 g)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Zest of ½ lemon

130 g sifted flour (about 1.5 cups)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 T greek yogurt (50 ml)

For the caramel topping

100 grams butter (a little less than 1/4 pound)

¾ cup caster or granulated sugar (75 grams)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Generously butter a deep cake pan and line the base with the apricots, cut side down, cramming as many in as you can.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, beat the butter with the brown sugar and vanilla until fluffy, and then beat in the egg yolks one by one.  In a third bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Gradually add the white sugar, and continue beating until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. 

Now it’s time to make your caramel. In a heavy, preferably non-stick skillet, melt the butter, sugar, and lemon juice over medium-low heat. They will eventually combine and start bubbling. Add the vanilla and continue to simmer, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, until the caramel has thickened and turned golden. (If you’re using a candy thermometer, aim for about 230 degrees Fahrenheit or 115 degrees Celsius.) Pour the caramel over the apricots in the prepared pan.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients of your cake into the butter/sugar/egg yolk mixture. Stir in the Greek yogurt (this makes the batter a bit lighter and adds a touch of acid). Mix in about a third of the egg whites to lighten the batter, and then carefully fold in the rest. Try not to over-mix.

Spread this over your caramel covered apricots, and bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a wooden pick inserted in the cake comes out clean or the center of the cake feels springy (my preferred method).

Cool in the pan for three to five minutes, then cover with a serving plate and, with your dominant hand below the cake, flip. Give yourself a pat on the back, and serve (graciously) to your guests.

Makes 10-12 servings.

27 thoughts on “Apricot Caramel Upside-Down Cake

  1. That looks wonderful! Aren’t apricots fantastic? I made an apricot tarte tatin recently and it was so delicious. I think I have the opposite problem, I’m probably a little big headed about my cooking… oh well… Again, that is gorgeous!

    • It’s funny — it’s not that I’m insecure; I’m a confident cook, but I’m a pretty extreme perfectionist. I demand a lot of myself. So “good” or “very good” isn’t good enough. It has to be just right. And I’m terrible at taking compliments about anything! Food, shoes, work — you name it.

  2. Yeah, well, beautiful color on those apricots, Susan. Learning to simply say thank you is a step upwards into graciousness and makes everyone relax and enjoy — it took me most of my fifty-four years to learn this though.

      • Incidentally, amidst all the publications commemorating Julia Child’s 100th birthday, I found this quote:

        The young hostess should be advised never to say anything about what she serves, in the way of ‘Oh, I don’t know how to cook, and this may be awful,’ or ‘poor little me,’ or ‘this didn’t turn out’… etc. etc. It is so dreadful to have to reassure one’s hostess that everything is delicious, whether or not it is. I make it a rule, no matter what happens, never to say one word, though it kills me. Maybe the cat has fallen in the stew, or I have put the lettuce out the window and it has frozen, or the meat is not quite done … Grit one’s teeth and smile.)

  3. Truly we are kindred spirits. I do the exact same thing. It’s never quite… But this cake looks wonderful! (Just say thank you. I’ll try to follow suit.)

  4. I think we should have more comments like: “The apricots are like a sunset over a South Pacific island” – i like that. In fact the day someone says that about any dish of mine will be a great day indeed. On to the cake – i *love* upside downcakes. I grew up with pineapple version as cooked by my mum – really properly delicious. Soft fruit like apricots are perfect foils for the sugary moist cake.

    • I love upside-down cakes too. My mother never made them; I was, consequently, enthralled by them growing up. They are easy, delicious, and conceptually utterly seductive. What’s not to love about caramelized fruit soaked into yummy cake?

  5. Hee ou are just like me. I always start by apologising for all the possible problems in my food first. Anyway, this cake looks gorgeous susan! You don’t need to apologise for it! Proper old-school upside down cake imo, though my memory of it is usually with pineapple instead (as was taught in home ec class in sec school hah). I’m not usually a fan of cake but when I do have cake, I like it really sitcky and moist, like this (I hate airy sponges).

  6. Have you ever seen the Joy Luck Club? This post reminded me of that movie.

    The problem with apologizing for your food is that even if it *was* terrible, (which I’m sure yours is not, I’m sure it tastes as good as it looks), but even if it was terrible, people who liked you would only just hasten to compliment you to spare your feelings. If you say nothing, you know that the unsoliticited compliments are truly meant.

    The only exception I make is for other professionals. Then it’s more – “what would you do different”?

  7. I know it’s been a long time since you posted this recipe but I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that I made your Apricot Upside Down cake this past week and it was glorious! It was the first recipe I made in my new Kenwood Chef (a Chrissy present from my hubby) and was perfect for testing out the K-beater and the whisk attachment all in one recipe. The cake turned out wonderfully – beautiful to look at and devine to eat! Thanks for sharing. I love my Kenwood Chef AND your fabulous recipe. Happy New Year!

    • Thanks for such an incredibly kind and encouraging post. After a yearlong hiatus, I will return to Susan Eats London and blogging. There have been big changes — I should write about those and write some beautiful recipes.

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