Apple-Cornmeal Cake: A Reason To Celebrate


A dear friend recently asked me what my ideal birthday cake would be.

My immediate answer was a pure pipe dream (in the U.S. anyhow) — a durian cream cake in which the sliver of cream wedged between two layers of pound cake is flecked with hefty chunks of creamy durian, a pungent, Southeast Asian fruit that’s hard to find in New York.

Now, if I can’t have durian cake, my second choice would be a vanilla cake coated with a creamy guava or passionfruit icing.

I know, I know.

I have been told I can be hard to please.

Having no durians, passionfruit or guava at hand, however, I set about making myself one of my absolute favorite fall cakes — an apple-cornmeal upside down cake that is so simple and can be assembled so quickly that I’ve set it out for more Thanksgiving and autumn meals than I can count. 

In fact, it’s what first came to mind when my Let’s Lunch group, a bunch of intrepid cooks around the world who have a standing monthly lunch date, decided to do a fall dessert for November.

This cake is insanely easy — so easy, in fact, that the hardest part about putting it together is the coring and peeling of the apples. (Which, if you’re lucky like I am and have a designated sous chef in the household, is something you can make the poor sap do delegate.)

All you have to do is melt butter and sugar until it turns a lovely caramel color, toss in the sliced apples and cook it altogether until the apples are softened and coated with caramel. Place that in a cake pan, top it with the cake batter that you’ve mixed together, put it in the oven and 40 minutes later, you’re pulling out a very professional looking (if I do say so myself) apple cake that’s delicious to boot.

The one drawback to this cake is the entire process will make you famished. The smell of melted butter and sugar and then apples, melted butter and sugar … all of that will make you so wild-eyed with hunger that you’ll be grabbing at anything within reach and shoving it into your mouth.

But that’s the thing about celebrations — whether it’s Thanksgiving, a birthday or a lovely fall lunch with a bunch of avid cooks and good friends around the world — indulgence, I think, should definitely be called for.

So here’s to fall celebrations — and to embracing that more is more.


If you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

And don’t forget to check out other Let’s Lunchers’ fab fall desserts:

Cathy‘s Fuyu Persimmon Rum Raisin Bread Pudding at Showfood Chef

Danielle‘s Cranberry Lime Tart at Bon Vivant

Ellise‘s Peanut Butter Pie at Cowgirl Chef

Joan‘s Upside Down Fruit & Cornbread Cake

Karen‘s Apple Ice-Cream & Gingersnaps at Geofooding

Linda‘s Vegan Pumpkin Tarts at Free Range Cookies

Stephanie‘s Apple Galette with Blue Cheese & Walnuts at The Cosmic Cowgirl


Apple-Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

(From Bon Appetit, February 2003)


  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds Braeburn or Golden Delicious apples (about 4 medium), peeled, quartered, cored, each quarter cut into 2 wedges
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9-inch-diameter cake pan with
1 1/2-inch-high sides; line pan with 10-inch-diameter parchment paper
round (parchment will come 1/2 inch up sides of pan). Butter parchment.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over
medium heat. Add 1/2 cup sugar and cook until sugar dissolves and
mixture turns deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 6
minutes. Add apple wedges and gently shake skillet to distribute
caramel evenly. Cover and cook until apples release their juices, about
5 minutes. Uncover and cook until apples are tender and caramel
thickens and coats apples, stirring occasionally, about 13 minutes.
Transfer apples and caramel syrup to prepared cake pan, spreading

Whisk flour, baking powder,
and salt in small bowl to blend. Place cornmeal in large bowl; pour 1/2
cup boiling water over and stir to blend. Add 6 tablespoons butter and
3/4 cup sugar to cornmeal mixture. Using electric mixer, beat until
well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture
alternately with milk in 2 additions each. Pour batter over apples in

Bake cake until golden and
tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool
cake in pan 5 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to
loosen cake. Carefully invert cake onto ovenproof or microwavable
platter and peel off parchment. Cool 15 minutes. (Cake can be made up
to 6 hours ahead. Rewarm in 350°F oven about 10 minutes or microwave on
medium just until slightly warm, about 2 minutes.)

Cut cake into wedges, place on plates, and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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5 thoughts on “Apple-Cornmeal Cake: A Reason To Celebrate

  1. Happy birthday! This looks like a pretty serious replacement for durian cake in my opinion, although there can really only be one substitute for durian cake – the fruit itself!

  2. Thanks! I agree … I have constant dreams about durian. Let me know when you’re next in Singapore — I found this bakery that makes fantastic durian eclairs and cake. So good…

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