Wednesday, 21 August 2013 | 30 comments

Peach & cornmeal upside-down cake

i recently read Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby. The book is not about food, but nonetheless begins with the story of a pile of apricots that arrived at the author’s doorstep from her ailing mother’s home. Solnit spreads them on a sheet, observing them in various states of greenness, ripeness, and decay, too many to eat at once. She likens her pile of apricots to the Impossible Task of fairy tales: the water to be carried in a sieve; the pile of seeds and grains to be sorted in a single night. Doing something with all those apricots before they went to waste became more than just a matter of practicality, it was a puzzle to solve, the feat that proves you’re worthy enough to marry the princess, the story that allows Scherezade to live another day.In any case, this has made me approach my dining room table with a bit more sense of awe lately. We’ve been the recipient of an unwieldy windfall of stone fruit, too: straw to be spun into gold.Time and Virginia humidity are not kind to peaches and nectarines. We took home the fruit last Saturday, and by yesterday, a few of them were slumping, molding, oozing liquid. I chopped and pitted and froze and suspended some of them in syrup, but it’s hard to be around sweet, ripe peaches for more than a few hours without wanting something for now. And so, cake.

Peach & cornmeal upside-down cake

Adapted just barely from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living, 2008

I’m a bit tired of herbs-in-baked-goods, but I included the lavender here anyway, and it was lovely. The cake will still be good without it, though.

You’ll need

  1. 5 1/2 ounces room temperature unsalted butter, divided
  2. 1 cup sugar, divided
  3. 3 ripe (but firm) peaches, skins on, pitted, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  4. 1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
  5. 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  6. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  7. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lavender
  8. 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  9. 3 large eggs
  10. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  11. 1/2 cup heavy cream


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet (both will work, but a 10-inch pan will yield a thicker cake), melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the sugar in the skillet, and cook it, stirring, until it is browned and bubbling, 2-3 minutes. Arrange the peach slices in the skillet to cover the bottom, and cook them, leaving them undisturbed, until they begin to soften, 5-10 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, lavender, and salt.
  3. In another medium mixing bowl, cream remaining butter and sugar together with a hand mixer or stand mixer until pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and cream and mix on low until combined.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Scoop the batter, which will be quite thick, into the skillet with the layer of peach slices in the bottom. Smooth over the top of the batter with a spatula.
  5. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the top is just beginning to be golden, the middle doesn’t jiggle, and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  6. Allow the skillet to cool for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife or offset spatula around the edges of the cake to loosen, and then carefully invert the skillet onto a plate. Bang on the skillet bottom, once inverted, to encourage any lingering pieces to dislodge themselves in the right location.
  7. (This is the first upside down cake I’ve ever made that inverted beautifully and easily—I hope that luck translates to all of you!)
  8. Best when served immediately, but we had some at room temperature that was still quite good.

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§ 30 responses to Peach & cornmeal upside-down cake

  • Here in Florida, we have the same problem with our peaches: they just don’t stay at the perfect ripeness level for long. This is a beautiful cake, Sarah.

  • This cake is stunning! And the perfect way to use up fresh peaches!

  • I don’t often comment on food blogs, but I wanted to take a moment to tell you that the buffet in your dining room is simply gorgeous. And I covet your rug. Thanks for posting such beautiful pictures with your recipes.

  • What a perfect upside down skillet cake. This I will have to try when peach season hits down here. I might even have to try it with apples or pears in the meantime.

  • The January blizzard destroyed our wonderful sage bush, and the upstairs neighbors replaced it with lavender. I’d be lying if I said I was pleased with their choice, but given the fact I have 10 peaches coming in tomorrow’s CSA, well, things can sometimes work out in the end. I actually made an upside down peach and blueberry cake on Saturday night. Found the recipe in an LL Bean cookbook, edited by Judith Jones. I figured if she found Julia Child, I could trust her recipe. It was a keeper.

    Our dining room furniture is from my grandparents; yours looks to be heirloom as well. Food just tastes better that way, I think.

  • Amy

    That’s a lot of peaches. Oh, what I would do to be surrounded by rotting peaches….

  • With the humidity high in New York as well my peaches are quick to go back so this could not have came at a better time! Thanks much, his cake looks delicious and beautiful!

  • Margit Van Schaick

    With all the light enveloping everything in the room, each thing textured in it’s own essence, you have created your lived-in Vermeer. Sara, thank you for sharing all this beauty. I’m going to try this recipe idea with different fruit as it comes in season. Here in Vermont, blueberries, apples, and pears are more available than stone fruit, other than plums. I remember making a similar cake years ago, with blueberries, following a Leslie Land recipe from her wonderful book, “Reading between the Recipes”. So good made in a cast iron pan!

    • It does feel a bit Dutch Master, huh? It’s funny, I’ve been saying that about these chocolate bell peppers that show up at the market. I think there are versions of this that use pear or apple that would be great; could throw in some warmer fall spices like cardamom or ginger, too.

  • This is really my favourite kind of cake – sturdy and sweet and sticky and everything that’s good.

  • I would love to try this, especially because I’m avoiding wheat. Now to find a cast iron pan!

  • I would love to try this, especially because I’m avoiding wheat. Now I just need to find a cast iron skillet!

  • This just oozes America in such a delectable fashion that I think I will (finally) get around to getting myself a cast iron skillet this weekend. I’m living in Germany at the moment and this makes me nostalgic for summertime with my grandparents :)

  • this looks divinely wonderful! yum!

  • I’ve just finished reading ‘The Faraway Nearby’ too. Such a beautiful book. This has inspired me to cook cake now. Wouldn’t it be great to do a book with recipes related to fairy tales? Gingerbread for Hansel and Gretle? Rose flavoured something for Sleeping Beauty…

  • Ooh, I’m bookmarking this! I’ve also just come into a bunch of peaches–a straw hat full of them is sitting on my desk right now–and baked things with cornmeal are an automatic win in our house.

  • Nice blog! I HAD to make this this super-early this morning and it was perfect. Love the cornmeal & cream and mine slipped out perfectly. Thanks for the perfect way to use those last few juicy peaches.

    I’ve only had 4 pieces so far today… Should I be ashamed?

  • i hear you about the humidity and peaches. when i get them from the market i have to go straight home or else. this sounds like a great recipe. can’t wait to try it.

  • I made this for my mom’s birthday and it was a HUGE hit. So delicious and a lovely summer dessert.

  • I made this for my mom’s birthday and it was a HUGE hit. So delicious and a lovely summer dessert.

  • Amy

    Prepared this for a Sunday brunch and it was perfect. So simple, baked quickly, inverted beautifully*, and was a perfect addition to the menu without being too sweet. Bonus leftovers for Monday morning. Thank you for the recipe!

    * This was gratifying after a disastrous Spanish tortilla incident earlier in the week.

    • Awesome! Love feedback like this. Oh man, stone fruit season is the best. (Your inversion chronicles made me laugh :) Glad things worked out this time. —S

  • Heidi

    Just wanted to let you know this cake has become a staple in our kitchen. It is what I whip out when in doubt. I make a gluten free version with coconut milk instead of cream (difficult family), and whatever sour fruit is in season. It has the pickiest children I know gobbling it up and wondering what is in it :)

    Please keep posting recipes, you are obviously on to something :)

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