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.’”
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
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.