Cranberry Upside-Down Cake and Beertown

My husband is an actor. He has a full-time job that is not acting, but nights and weekends he performs with smaller local companies doing exciting new work. I have been known to do some directing (and a teensy bit of acting) in my time, but I do MAYBE one show a year whereas JD usually does at least 3. Sometimes it’s tough having him out at rehearsals and shows 6 days a week but we make it work for us. Wonder of wonders, he is currently in a show that requires baked goods. Everybody wins! The show is essentially a town-hall type meeting where the audience plays the role of townspeople and helps the cast make decisions about what should/shouldn’t go in their time capsule. I have been trying to supply them with treats every few days for their dessert potluck. (NB: it is an awesome show, getting great reviews, and is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the DC area.)

JD, Photo by Clinton Brandhagen

So, yesterday I made a Cranberry Upside Down Cake, adapted from Martha, and sent half of it along with JD for his show.

I gotta tell you, once this baby went into the pan and then the oven, I was totally unsure about it. The batter was WAY thick, it did not behave as expected in the oven, and it was not very pretty. BUT! It tasted good, which in my world counts much more than aesthetics. In my efforts to Healthy Us Up, I subbed some of the flour with whole wheat. I also used some brown sugar in the topping to give it a more caramel-y feel, and used pumpkin pie spice instead of allspice because, well, I didn’t have allspice and I L-O-V-E using pumpkin pie spice in non-pumpkin applications. Oh, and I used heavy cream instead of milk. Which may be the opposite of healthy, but it’s how I roll. At least the cream was organic.*

I used a phone app to pretty it up.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Adapted from this recipe by Martha Stewart

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: Serves 8


  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 plus 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (thought that would be easier than doing the math)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center. Rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with 2 tablespoons butter. (NB: Make sure the butter is soft and use it all even though you don’t feel you need to, it keeps it from sticking AND helps form the buttery caramely top.)
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup white sugar and brown sugar with the cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. Sprinkle mixture evenly over bottom of pan; arrange cranberries in a single layer on top.
  3. In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, cream remaining 6 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup white sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well combined.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the cream, until well combined.
  5. Spoon batter over cranberries in pan, and smooth top. (NB: Wow this batter was thick. So much so that I added a tablespoon or two of cream to try to thin it out just a bit. What I wound up doing was using my cookie dough scoop to plop the dough on top of the cranberries, then used my fingers to smooth it all out.)
  6. Place pan on a baking sheet; bake cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake; invert onto a rimmed platter. (NB: If any cranberries stick, just take them out of the pan and smoosh them onto the top of the cake.)

It’s not the prettiest cake, and it didn’t rise quite like I expected, but yum. I think the changes I made made the cake part a little heavier and toothy, but I think it stands up well to the tartness of the cake. I actually preferred this after it had completely cooled and the sugar on top had solidified and crusted a bit. It’ll stay wrapped in plastic for a while and, I think, would make a decent breakfast if you’re feeling that.

*A note on healthiness and ingredients: I will write a longer blog post about this soon, but there are a few things I am trying to do to keep JD and I healthy. These are not DIET things, neither of us necessarily need to lose weight. And, let’s be real, if we were concerned about weight I wouldn’t be making cake. So, I may use cream in a recipe, but I will always make sure it is organic. Trying to do all organic dairy (milk, cream, butter, eggs, cheese), organic grass-fed meat, organic fruits and veggies when possible. I’m not going to list “organic milk” in the ingredients list, bc I think that’s obnoxious, so just know it’s what I would recommend.


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