When it’s not quite summer anymore but not yet far into fall, when peaches still abound at the market but the days are getting shorter and the nights colder, and you’re starting to think ahead into September and October, craving heartier dinners and stick-to-your-ribs desserts, this dense, moist gingerbread topped (and bottomed) with thickly sliced peaches, is for you. It’s like the natural transition from fruity late-summer pies to damp, comforting fall cakes. The juices from the peaches mingle with brown sugar, butter and maple syrup or honey, making a gooily-topped cake that’s divine served warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream.
It’s also exactly the sort of thing I want wafting from the oven on a Friday afternoon when the boys arrive home from school or come in famished after riding their bikes. The crunch of dried leaves underfoot triggers a need for gingerbread in me – perhaps because an upside-down pear gingerbread has been our family’s traditional Thanksgiving dessert for decades. One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the fruit slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. I admit to having an occasional wedge of this with a big spoonful of plain yogurt and a hot cup of coffee for breakfast, and all is well in the world.
Upside-Down Peach Gingerbread
2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. maple or golden syrup or honey
1-2 ripe but firm peaches, pears or tart apples, sliced
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger, or 1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice (optional)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9″ round cake pan with nonstick spray. Put the butter (for the topping) in the pan and put it into the oven for a few minutes to melt. Take it out and stir in the brown sugar and syrup. It won’t really be smooth – don’t worry about it. Arrange the peach slices on top, placing them tightly together – they shrink a bit as they cook.
To make the gingerbread batter, beat the butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. Add the egg, molasses, and ginger and beat until thoroughly combined.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Add half the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir by hand or on the lowest speed of an electric mixer just until the batter is combined. Add the buttermilk in the same way, then the remaining dry ingredients. Pour the batter over the sliced peaches.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top is springy to the touch. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a plate while it’s still warm. If it cools too much and sticks to the pan, warm it in the oven again before you try to invert it. Don’t worry if any peach slices stick to the bottom of the pan – simply peel them out and place them back on top of the cake where they belong. Serves 8-12.