Apple Upside-Down Cake with Calvados Sauce

Some friends and I recently started a book club where we read a book and then, during the subsequent discussion, drink whatever alcoholic beverage the main characters imbibed.

This month it was was Henry Miller’s seminal autobiographical novel Tropic of Cancer. Miller and his friends drink to excess frequently, and aren’t choosy of their alcohol. In one memorable scene, they finish off a bottle of calvados, a brandy made from apples.

I wanted to prepare a dessert to serve alongside our refreshments. I thought it would be ideal to incorporate some calvados into whatever dessert I was making. Something with apples was a natural starting point. Tarte tatin is a traditional French tart made with caramelized apples. I wanted to do something similar, but without making a pastry dough crust. I thought the gooey-ness of an upside-down cake would be perfect.

Once again, King Arthur Flour came through for me with a perfect recipe. This cake has lots of apple flavor, and doesn’t even use vanilla. Instead, boiled apple cider is the main flavor extract. I used some calvados in the cake (subbing out some boiled cider) and more in the sauce. I also added lemon zest to the cake for a little extra brightness. Once I tasted the thick and sweet sauce, I knew the lemon zest would provide good balance.

I was really happy with how this cake turned out. It is moist and decadent, without being soggy and too sweet.

Sauce ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons boiled cider or thawed apple juice concentrate
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons calvados

Cake ingredients:

  • 4 medium granny smith apples
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon boiled cider or thawed apple juice concentrate
  • 2 tablespoons calvados
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all of the sauce ingredients except the calvados in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and an even consistency. Note: We don’t add the calvados now or the alcohol would burn off.

Step 2. Line a 9-inch cake pan that’s at least 2 inches deep with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Then peel the apples. Reserve one for later use. Cut the top off one of the apples and place it, stem-side down, in the center of the pan. Then arrange apple slices to fill the rest of the bottom of the pan. The slices should be about 1/4-inch thick, or about 16 slices per apple. (Save any apple slices that are left.) Finally, pour 1/2 cup of the sauce over the apples.

Step 3. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.




Step 4. Chop the walnuts prepare the lemon zest. Grate the remaining apple and any leftover slices (there should be about 1 cup of grated apple).


Step 5. Combine the oil, brown sugar, boiled cider, calvados, eggs and lemon zest and beat together for 2 minutes on medium speed.



Step 6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and mix thoroughly. Then fold in the grated apples and chopped walnuts. Gently pour the batter over the apples in the pan.


Step 7. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool briefly, and run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake onto its serving plate, and scrape any sauce that got left behind onto the top of the cake.

Step 8. Reheat the remaining sauce until it is a uniform consistency, but not boiling. Add the calvados and whisk to combine. Let the sauce cool slightly, then spoon it over the cake, making sure to cover everything.

I was worried that the sauce would soak in too much and turn the cake into a soggy mess, but as can be seen in the top photo, that isn’t the case. The sauce soaked in slightly, but the center of the cake is still dry. The calvados gives the sauce a little bit of a kick, but it isn’t overpowering.


  • Jen

    Wow, this sounds really good!

  • Gin

    Mark, can’t wait to try this one!

  • Jesse

    This was delicious, not to mention gorgeous — thanks so much for bringing it.  I hope “The Sound And The Fury” offers you similar motivation!

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