The Pantry: Plum Upside-Down Citrus Cake

This cake is really the result of nothing more than me playing with techniques that I’ve amassed over the last couple of years.  The cake is light, soft, almost spongy.  The topping is as delicious as it is beautiful.  It makes a great breakfast cake as well as a good dessert.

Plum Upside-Down Cake



¼ cup butter

3 tbsp light brown sugar

2-3 plums


3 eggs, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp water

¼ tsp cream of tartar


3 tbsp orange marmalade

2 tbsp water


1.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Wash, halve, and pit plums.

Slice them into very thin slices.

Set them aside.

3.  In a 9-inch cake pan, melt the butter, then sprinkle with the brown sugar.  When I did mine, I put the pan in the 350 degree oven to melt the brown sugar with the butter.  I don’t know if that was the wisest way to do it, but it worked.

4.  Place the sliced plums on top of the brown sugar and butter in a single layer. I started on the outer edge of the pan and worked my way around in a spiral until I reached the center of the pan.

I was a little concerned about the cake sticking to the cake pan at this point, so I took a little bit of room temperature butter and smeared it around the inside edge of the cake pan.  I don’t know if it was necessary–it’s the only having made the cake once thing again.

5.  Separate the egg yolks and egg whites into two separate bowls.

Usually I use the shell to separate my eggs, but I was practicing things I’d seen elsewhere, so I tried something a little different this time.  I used my fingers, tipping the whole egg into my hand and allowing the whites to drip though my fingers into the bowl below. I then gently dropped the whole yolk into another bowl.   A little ick, I know, but it actually worked better than using the shell. (For picture purposes, you see the shell technique.  It’s hard to take a picture of yourself while holding the insides of an egg.)

I the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, stir the egg yolks on medium speed.

Add the sugar

and increase the speed to medium-high until the mixture is pale and thick.

6.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  In retrospect, next time I do plums, I’m going to try ginger instead of cinnamon.  The cinnamon, I think, was good, but it didn’t complement the plums the way I wished it had.

7.  Once the egg yolks and sugar have thickened somewhat, reduce the speed of the mixer to medium-low and slowly add the flour mixture.

This add the vanilla, juice, and water.

Once again, when I make this again with plums, I’d probably either eliminate the vanilla or change it for a different extract altogether.  It made a delicious cake, but–just as with the cinnamon– it was better suited to an apple cake, not a plum one.

At this point, the batter is really thick and heavy.  You’ll probably need to scrape the sides of the bowl down.

The batter will seem to be so thick and heavy you think that this is never going to work.

It will, though.

8.  I only have one mixing bowl for my mixer, so I transferred the thick batter to another bowl and completely cleaned and dried my mixer’s mixing bowl for this step.  I really should get another bowl.

Dump the egg whites into the very clean, very dry mixing bowl– if the bowl isn’t clean or dry, this won’t work properly.  Add the cream of tartar, and using the wire whip attachment for you mixer, whip the eggs on high-speed

until stiff peaks form.

You’ll know the egg whites are completely ready when you can literally turn the bowl upside down over you head without dousing yourself in egg white.

Half of cooking is all about confidence, right?

9.  When the egg whites are sufficiently whipped, gently fold in a quarter of the egg whites into the thick batter at a time.

Work as gently and carefully as you can, using just a little at a time.

This is what makes the cake light and fluffy.  By the time you are done, that thick, dense batter should be light and airy– the volume in the bowl will be about double the size that it was previously.

10.   After the egg whites are incorporated, immediately transfer the batter to the   repared cake pan.

11.  Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, checking for doneness by placing a wooden skewer or a knife in the center.  If it comes out clean, it’s finished cooking.  Remove the cooked cake from the oven, and run a knife around the outer edge to loosen it from the sides of the pan.

I have never had a cake turn out so flat and even with the top of a pan.  I don’t know why it did it, and I’m not going to question it.  I’ll be interested in seeing if this happens when I make the  cake again.

Cool for 5-10 minutes, then turn the cake over onto a serving plate or cake round.

Hold your breath, then gently lift the cake pan, praying it all comes out in one piece.  Mine did.

I have no idea if this was luck or what.  I certainly didn’t expect it to, and I don’t know if it’d be better to use some parchment paper.  I have to experiment a little.

12.  In a small saucepan, combine the orange marmalade and water over low heat until the marmalade is melted.  (I’d used most of it before I thought to take the picture–sorry).

Brush the tops and sides of the cake with the warm marmalade.

13.  Serve it.

It looks like it’s dense, but it wasn’t at all.  In fact, it was probably one of the softest, lightest cakes I’ve even eaten.  I was surprised every single time I took a bite.

14.  Then…

eat it!

Yield: 8-12 servings


The cake was good both warm and cold.  It was more of a breakfast cake, excellent with coffee, than it was a dessert cake.  However, I think it’d have been excellent with a scoop of ice cream.

When I make this again, I’ll probably use ginger instead of cinnamon and exchange the vanilla for a different extract or possibly even something like Grand Marnier.

I do think that the cake itself would be absolutely delicious as an apple cake, too.  In that particular case, I’d change the plums in favor of baking apples.  I’d also use cider instead of lemon juice and apple jelly instead of marmalade.


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