breakfast, brunch, desserts

nectarine upside-down cake.

People, listen up right now: you MUST make this cake. I implore you. Make it for yourselves, make it for friends and loved ones, make 10 of them, but just do it already before the nectarines revert back to being the rock-hard, scentless garden stones they are the rest of the year. I’m going to dispense with my usual fluffity-fluff and get to the point, because the longer you spend reading this, the less time you have to get nectarines while they’re in season, which means you’ll only be able to make 15 of these cakes and not 20. And that would be an utter shame. So; onward.

Look, it’s obvious I love nectarines, and peaches. I’ve conjured up a way to treat myself to peachy desserts year-round using canned peaches (those of you who just gasped; I’m sorry. But it’s really quite good, and you should try it). But it’s just not the same, is it. It’s perfect for the peachy cravings, but when you have the real thing…well; you know.

During the fall and winter, I lull myself into thinking it is, and tell myself when peaches and nectarines finally make their return, that I’ll be cool about it. Laid-back, even. I mean, they come during a time of fresh strawberries, the first onslaught of blueberries, and all sorts of other fresh produce; why make such a fuss?

And then, I see them at the farmers’ market, from across the way. The nectarines. The peaches. Their pretty, speckled orange and red and golden sunset skin calls to me. Says, “get over here, little lady; let us pinch your cheeks. It’s been too long.” And I walk over, and I smell them before I even hit the little bushel basket they’re sitting in.

And I’m a goner. I buy as many as my hands can carry and I rush home to happily eat them for snacks, dinner, breakfast, whatever. But this year, I am armed for produce’s busy season: for during the dead of winter, I bought the Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food and I have been anticipating this moment. Inside its pages is a guide for everything from how to buy, store, and use produce to how to buy meat and beer. It’s perfect for me, because I want and need to know how to buy things at their best. Some things, I totally get. Others, I wouldn’t have the first clue.

In it lives this recipe, now known in this house as The Cake Shannon Will Be Making for No Reason All Summer Long. Because it’s – no exaggerating – probably the best cake, just the cake part, I’ve maybe ever had. It’s a delicious buttermilk/vanilla number, and it’s awesome. Total summer. Very similar to an exceptionally good bottom half of a New York-style coffee cake. In fact, so much like my very own family’s New York-style coffee cake that I may try this with the crumb topping we do and see how it works together.

I know. You’re drooling, and I completely understand. Take a moment.

But then the Bi-Rite had to top this already-marvelous vanilla cake with fresh nectarines. Mountains of them, to be precise. And – best part – they never once said to peel them. And honestly, I understand peeling apples for pie, and even peaches due to their furry nature, but nectarines? They have such a delicate little flesh on them, why bother. And so I didn’t. And truly, you would never notice.

See that? That’s nectarine juice, my friend, and it streaks all through this cake. Now don’t you want nectarine juice oozing through the next cake you make? I do. Which is why I’ll be making a few more of these.

I can’t think of a better cake for breakfast, brunch, whenever. Certainly my taste buds knew no bounds when it came to the time of day for eating this. I think it’s best just cooled from the oven, but it’s also delicious the following 2 days. If you’re serving it for guests and you like a big production made over you, make it that afternoon if you’re serving it for dessert. If you don’t want to trouble with it, or you want to spruce up a cake which has been sitting overnight, liquefy some fresh peach or apricot jam in the microwave, stir until it’s broken up, and let cool slightly. Using a pastry brush, gently brush a very light coating of this makeshift glaze over top your cake and it’ll look like it just came from the oven again.

I promise you, if you make one of these, you won’t be able to sleep at night unless there’s one around at all times.

Adapted just slightly from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough. Which I would highly recommend to anyone who likes to buy fresh but doesn’t always know what to look for when you’re out, er, looking. I’m the first to admit I don’t always know, and now that I have this book, I’m learning new things all the time.

Nectarine Upside-Down Cake

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, DIVIDED
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5 medium nectarines, cut into 1/2 slices (and by that, I mean slice it like you would any round thing, but have the skin side be about 1/2 inch)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a little over 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (don’t heap, but “overfill” if you wish. or just use the 1/2 teaspoon if that scares you)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • peach or apricot jam (for day-later refreshing of the cake, optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Butter at least the sides (the bottom will have a butter mixture, so I didn’t bother) of either your cake pan or your Springform pan (see below).

In a small saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of your butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is smooth (you don’t want it to boil or start to become candy or anything), about 4 minutes. transfer to either a round 9 x 3 inch cake pan (a deep cake pan, yes) or do what I do, and transfer to a 9-inch Sprinform pan, spreading the mixture evenly across the bottom.

note: if you’re using the Springform pan, may I remind you that brown sugar goo will fall. And it will fall all over the bottom of your oven, so I suggest lining a lipped half sheet pan with aluminium foil and sticking it directly under the cake while baking so it catches any drippy sugar. Because there will be drippy sugar. Worth it? yes. I imagine if you used the tall cake pan, goo may come up and over the sides, so employ the same method for it, just in case.

Arrange the nectarine slides over top of the butter/sugar mixture in an overlapping spiral pattern, doing the best you can (I wasn’t fancy about it). When you’ve covered the bottom, build another layer of fruit on top, filling in the blank spaces left by the first layer. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter with the granulated sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. With the motor running, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl down as needed. I find this works best when you break them into a glass measuring cup and pour them in one at a time, FYI. Then you don’t run the risk of shells.

Add the buttermilk and vanilla and mix again just until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until the batter comes together, 15-30 seconds.

Pour the batter slowly over the fruit layers, spreading it out as you go. Carefully and gently smooth the top to even out the batter over the nectarines, being careful not to move them around. This isn’t as difficult as you would think; the brown sugar mixture acts as a sort-of glue to hold them in place, and the slices themselves do a decent job of holding steady.

Bake until wooden skewer comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes, checking at the 40-minute mark for doneness. It should be a lovely golden color and shiny like the sun; it’s very pretty when it comes out.

No matter what pan you chose to use, cool the cake on a rack for 30 minutes in the pan. If you used a regular cake pan, run a small knife around the edge of the pan and turn out the cake onto a large plate or cake stand. If you used a Sprinform, release the side lever of the cake pan, remove the ring, and flip over onto a cake plate or cake stand. Swiftness is good here. Let cool completely before serving.

I had no problem with my cake unearthing itself from the pan; not one little nectarine clung to the bottom (top?); i suspect that’s the less-vacuumy nature of a Sprinform at work. If it seems to not want to come out, give it a quick little shake and it should release for you.

Eat heartily and often; this cake really is best the first or second day. You can store it for up to 3 days at room temperature, but it truly is at its most impressive the same day.

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  • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina June 9, 2012 at 6:39 am

    I may be in love with this cake. Because I’m in love with nectarines.

    And by the way, you never need an excuse to make cake. The day ending in “y”, is enough of an excuse.

    So, it just so happens that I have about a thousand peaches ready to go in my front yard. If I peeled those suckers, do you think that would work as a substitute? Because I need to use THOUSANDS of peaches, my friend.

    If you want peaches, you let me know. I’ll send you some. And I am TOTALLY serious.

    • Reply shannon June 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      are. you. SERIOUS right now about having, did you say, “thousands of peaches ready to go in my front yard.” where do you live, some sort of fruit and animal utopia? it’s like you’re your own farmers’ market.

      i want your peaches; to the email! we’ll talk.


      and absolutely, yes; i think if you peel them first, peaches are completely acceptable to use. peaches and nectarines are like cousins or something, right? so you go right ahead. i have my own plans to use fresh cherries and see how that works. also fresh blueberries…really anything i can get my hands on, because this cake base is so delicious.

      • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina June 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

        I have 8 or 9 peach trees, maybe more? They are producing fruit in succession. Right now, about 4 trees are giving birth…is that a fruit term? I have no idea. But, it was SO cool to walk out to my front yard, pick some peaches, and come inside and cook with them. In fact, it was RAD.

        I also only share my peaches with special people. I don’t give my peaches away for free to just any ol’ person.


        • Reply shannon June 13, 2012 at 5:09 am

          that’s like, soooooo farmchick of you. i would LOVE to walk outside my house and pick newborn peaches; wonder what the neighbors would do if i started gardening in the FRONT instead of the backyard…hmmmm. somehow i see problems. i’m coming to visit next year during peach time, and i’ll bring my aprons, put one on, and carry the peaches in it like you see them do in the movies.


  • Reply Willow June 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Wow, that sounds good! And you’re right, there’s nothing like fresh peaches and nectarines… last time I bought nectarines they were a little underripe still, so I guess Michigan has a little catching up to do. Should be perfect soon, though! 🙂

    • Reply shannon June 10, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      thanks, willow! i’ll say this: i’m learning all sorts of things from you Michigan folks this year (and it just now occurred to me that several of you i speak to regularly are from michigan.) i wonder if crops come in waves from south to north? because it does seem like the florida people get their things first, then we do, then you do. nature: gotta love it. i suppose this sort of puts you all at an advantage, considering you should have your potential recipes all laid out for when things start to peak. 🙂

  • Reply Katherine @ eggton June 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm


    This is so exciting.

    • Reply shannon June 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      katherine, wait until you make it. Then we’ll talk about exciting. it’s mind-bendingly good. i don’t get this overexcited about cake normally, but this one – THIS one – let’s just say i’ll be making this forever. churning them out in rapid succession and upside-downing them with any kind of fruit i can get my hands on, when nectarines aren’t available.

  • Reply Matina June 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    You have convinced me. I love nectarines, they are not quite here yet (Pacific NW) well there are some but they aren’t truly ripe yet. I will save this for when they are here in all their deliciousness. Have you tried it with white nectarines as well?

    • Reply shannon June 13, 2012 at 5:06 am

      oh, matina, then you will love this cake. this is our “first of the season” bunch, and i know to grab them immediately when i see them, because now for the next week or so we’ll have the harder ones again, but then they’ll be ok. do save this for when they’re all soft and ready to go; i promise you won’t be dissapointed.
      i haven’t tried it with white nectarines, but i LOVE white nectarines, and i imagine it would yield similar results with a slightly different color. i plan to test my theory, don’t you worry. 🙂

  • Reply Emma June 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Hot damn, I’m going to make this. And it will be delicious. I’ve made just about every upside-down cake I can think to make, but somehow forget about making them in the summer, when these stone fruits are available. I’m sure this will be just as wonderful as all the others. Yeeeeeee-haww!

    • Reply shannon June 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      emma, i adore you. seriously someday i’m coming up to see you and brianne, and you’re going to show me your Maine ways. i want to forage for things, i need to take lots of hikes and walks, and i’d like to see the sea. and at least one lighthouse. also cranberry bogs. you guys are awesome and your enthusiasm for things is boundless.

      have you tried a blueberry upside down thing? there’s a part of me that wants to take every summer fruit i can think of which would possibly work in this recipe and try it. so far, i was thinking blueberries, cherries, and maybe one with plums. i can’t wait until you try this: i’m not kidding when i say it’s the best cake base ever, and the nectarines dripping their juice all over it? sublime.

      • Reply Emma June 13, 2012 at 5:40 am

        No I haven’t, I’ve just made blueberry upside down custard things. But I have made an upside down cake with cherries and plums. Mmmmmmmmmm YAH!

        Fer sure, c’mon on out! Just don’t tell Brianne you want to see “one lighthouse.” You’ll probably end up seeing fifty and not getting any sleep:P

  • Reply movita beaucoup June 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Peaches and nectarines are not in season here. But we’ll get ’em later in the summer. The ocean makes our climate cooler. Or maybe Santa does. I’m not sure, but we can’t grow a lemons here at all. What’s my point? I’m not sure. So, until I can get my hands on some fresh nectarines, I’ll print a poster-sized version of one of your photographs to tide me over. Sigh…

    • Reply shannon June 13, 2012 at 5:13 am

      i would feel so sorry for you northerners (north of me, rather) and your patient wait for produce i seem to have, but then i remember: you have things like harbours and fiddleheads and clambakes and cooler weather in general. guess this is the universe’s little consolation prize – earlyish produce. 🙂
      you must try this cake like i must try that rhubarb number you just did. because it’s that simple, and when you can make fruit melt into cake batter? triumph.

  • Reply Clare Bills June 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    I’m addicted to both peaches and nectarines, so this drew me in. Yes, I’m drooling. Can’t wait to find a reason to make this.

    • Reply shannon June 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      oh Clare, then you MUST make this! and you don’t need a reason; it being peach and nectarine season is reason enough. after all, they won’t be around forever, and you have to celebrate them properly while they’re here. if all else fails, tell yourself you’re making it for someone and then “forget” to give it away. whoops. 🙂

  • Reply Choc Chip Uru July 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    This cake looks ridiculously delicious 😀
    I bet any stone fruit in it would make it taste 100 % gorgeous for a tea party 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

    • Reply shannon July 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      thanks, uru! i want to try it with just about every stone fruit when i get a chance. i’m thinking plums may be next…:)

  • Reply Patrice Loibner June 23, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I live in Washington state. I can my own peaches and nectarines.

    We love going to Yakima, and Walla Walla. The you picks are awesome and cheep out here. I used mycanned nectarines for this and it was fabulous.

    • Reply shannon October 14, 2014 at 6:06 am

      That’s so great to hear, Patrice! I’m semi-fearful of canning, so i rely on fresh, and it never occured to me to do this with homemade canned nectarines! Great idea; definitely a nice way to make this an anytime recipe. Thank you for writing!

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