A dark and swarthy fall cake


I’m not a planner. I am a little more of a dreamer. For me, planning consists of randomly thinking about something until it does or does not happen. The seeds for today’s recipe were sown weeks ago when I tasted the most amazing plum upside down cake I could have ever imagined. The cake was soft and moist, the fruit was delicious and fresh tasting and it came with a subtly sweet fluff of whipped cream. It was the kind of thing that makes music in your mouth. A couple of weeks ago, I made a sourdough coffee cake. The cake came out tender and moist and reminded me of the upside down cake I had previously. I started to think about how that sourdough cake could be changed into an upside down cake. I kept bumping into upside down cake as I traveled through the internet and as I studied the recipes, I was beginning to get an understanding for a dessert I’ve never made before. Fall arrived and with it the citrus and figs. I’ve been eating figs like crazy and adding them to everything from yogurt to pizza. Why not cake?




Today I made that imaginary upside down cake. It was a triumph! Although the caramel was dark brown and the figs were almost black, making the cake rather bland looking and annoyingly un-photogenic, the flavor was wonderful. Tender cake topped by a chewy rich caramel that fell somewhere in consistency between a sauce and candy. The fruit became candied. As you eat this marvelous cake, bites of chewy fig eventually give way to a surprise edging of candied orange.

As I handed a slice to someone I love, I said “this is like the best Fig Newton you’ll ever eat”. He took a bite and exclaimed, “I’ve had a Fig Newton and this is no Fig Newton!” with a big happy grin on his face. Make this cake for someone you love today.

To see more adventures in baking please go to YeastSpotting on Wild Yeast.


Fig and orange upside down cake

1 ½ cups unbleached white flour

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup unsalted butter

1 large egg, beaten

½ cup honey

½ cup sourdough starter (mine was fed the night before)

1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ cup buttermilk

½ cup brown sugar

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

Pinch of salt

10 figs, sliced into ¼” slices

½ of an orange, sliced thinly in rounds and then cut into thirds, rectangular middle pieces discarded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F.

In a large bowl, Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like coarse crumbs. In another bowl, mix the honey, egg, starter, vanilla and buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Butter a 9” spring form pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper into a 10” round. Place parchment into the buttered pan, pressing down and making sure paper overhang sticks to the sides of the pan.

Over medium heat, combine butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Melt butter, stirring. After the butter is melted, continue to cook the caramel mixture for another minute or two. The sugar will not look entirely melted or caramelized. Pour the caramel into the spring form pan making sure to spread it evenly over the parchment paper. Arrange orange slices decoratively in one layer around the edge of the pan. Arrange the figs in circular layers to fill the rest of the surface of the caramel. Be aware that the cut sides of the figs should face down. If you are working with an end slice make sure the skin side is up. Pour the batter over the fruit. The batter is very thick, be careful not to disturb the fruit design you so carefully constructed when you spread the batter out. Make sure the batter covers all of the fruit and reaches to the edges of the pan.

Bake the cake for 35 – 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Loosen the spring form and put a plate over the pan. Invert the cake onto the plate. Remove the pan and parchment paper. If any of the fruit dislodged itself during this process, use it to patch the cake back up.




Why don’t I feed myself?


Lately I’ve been like an addict on a bender. Appearances are fine. To the outside world it looks like things go according to plan. The reality is that I have been like a ravenous maw consuming all in my many paths and nothing on the path I should tread.

There sits my kitchen. For the past couple of weeks I have been letting myself be lured by the siren sounds of other kitchens. Any excuse to eat at a restaurant and I’d jump out the door purse in hand. A shopping trip to get groceries revealed that putting those wholesome items away was a challenging obstacle course of takeout containers and plastic bags. I need it to stop.

I know how to cook. I really do. A cabinet in my pantry is full of cookbooks for guidance and inspiration. I read food magazines and cooking blogs like they are novels and short stories. I have a kitchen of drawers and cabinets full of pots, pans, utensils, gadgets and knick knacks. So why don’t I feed myself? I really don’t know.

Force myself to go in there. Into that room of food laid to waste. Odds and ends. Bits and pieces. Force myself to page through the books, see what is on the page, see what is in the drawers, on the shelves, on my mind.


A trip to the yard for herbs. A grab in a drawer for a gadget. The cool feel of stainless steel in my hand. Oh so many questions: why is there always a bag of pasta with just an ounce or two of pasta missing? Why are there five mushrooms rolling around in the bottom of the crisper like orphans in a crowd? Is the sour cream off? What… is… that…


I am not a drinker, yet I have bottles and bottles of alcohol. I try so hard to eat a healthy diet, yet there is always butter and cheese. Always, there are piles of vegetables and fruits neglected and sometimes scary lurking in the darker recesses. Sometimes there are treats such as black forest ham or cured olives reserved for tasting but living in that hazy place between snack and alchemy. Such a wealth. So ignored. For what? The new pasta place that served us mediocre food? The brewpub with the cabbage we suspect of making us ill? The breakfast place with the food that tastes of greasy meals past. It’s criminal. It needs to stop.

It stops here.


Penne with Black forest ham and vegetables primavera

12 oz penne

Broccoli florets trimmed from two stalks

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

5-6 mushrooms sliced

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 lemon, zested and halved to be squeezed for juice

1 medium zucchini, chopped

½ red bell pepper, diced

6 oz black forest ham, chopped

½ cup dry vermouth

1 cup low fat milk

½ cup reduced fat sour cream

1 -2 tbsp freshly grated parmesano reggiano, plus more for garnish

Freshly ground black pepper for garnish

In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add penne and cook approx. 8 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta in a colander, return the pasta to the pot and set aside.

Steam broccoli for three minutes until just softened. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter. Heat until butter melts and foaming subsides. Add mushrooms and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add rosemary, lemon zest, zucchini and red peppers. Continue cooking until the veggies begin to soften. Add ham and broccoli. Cook for a minute or two until the ham begins to shrink a bit. Add vermouth. Continue to cook for a minute or two until the liquid begins to evaporate. Add milk and sour cream. Stir until the sour cream becomes smooth and incorporates itself into the sauce. Be careful with the heat at this point because you don’t want the dairy to curdle. If your stove is running hot, lower the heat a bit so that it is just at a simmer. Squeeze about a teaspoon of juice into the sauce from a lemon half. Toss in the parmesan.

Remove the sprig of rosemary from the sauce and pour the sauce over the pasta. Return the pot to the heat. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes until the sauce coats the pasta and thickens a bit. Serve with extra parmesan and a little fresh ground pepper.