Some of the best food writers I admire are those who can so vividly describe a scene that I am at once right there with them, smelling, salivating and savoring every mouthful of what they are describing. Adam Leith Gollner‘s piece about apricots in Lucky Peach a few years ago came to mind as I worked on this recent recipe featuring the apricot, or what I like to call the “red-headed stepchild” of the stone fruit family. “Compared to the juiceless cottonwads back home, this was a dripping, pulsating life form. It seemed to have been drenched in wild honey, butterscotch, and first kisses.” Yeah, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that, Adam.
What Gollner was describing was an apricot he had while in Budapest. Well, that and a beautiful memory of sneaking away with a pretty girl from the neighborhood co-mingling with his experience of standing under that apricot tree. He’s right about North American apricots typically resembling cottonwads. While most folks are going gaga over peaches right now, apricots seem to come and quickly fade, and unless you’ve got a great supplier, they can be pretty tasteless and mealy.
So how to elevate this seemingly mundane fruit? My sense of baking adventure led me to combine elements of a sour cream coffee cake with an upside down cake and incorporate coconut flour, an ingredient I have been wanting to experiment with. I also felt like the colors and flavor of this cake needed something sweet but slightly tangy so I created the most aromatic mango sauce that I infused with basil leaves. Talk about perfume. While I may never get to eat an apricot as inspiring as the one Gollner wrote about, I think I may have just created a little slice of heaven with this latest recipe.
Apricot Upside Down Cake with Mango-Basil Sauce
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup coconut flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sour cream
Juice and zest of 1/2 large orange
8 small apricots, cut in half, then sliced into thirds
1/4 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 1/2 large orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups mango juice nectar
8 large sprigs of fresh basil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a small bowl, gently mix sliced apricots with sugar, orange juice and zest and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix all the wet ingredients. Gently fold to create the cake batter. It will be soft and somewhat doughy, not runny like typical cake batter.
Spray the inside of a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Layer the apricots on the bottom of the pan in a circular pattern until you reach the center of the pan. Be sure to also include the sauce that has formed from the apricot topping. Spread the cake batter on top of the apricots. Place the pan on a larger sheet pan to catch any drippings. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick poked through the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.
While the cake is cooling, place the mango juice nectar, lemon juice, sugar and basil sprigs in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently simmer the sauce and allow the basil to infuse the juice for about 10 minutes. Make a cornstarch slurry using a little water and a bit of the mango juice that’s simmering. Add in and mix over heat until the sauce turns glossy and thickens a little. Remove from heat and discard basil. Place in the refrigerator until cool, about 15-20 minutes.
To serve, slice cake and pour mango-basil sauce over the top. This cake is a bit dense so tastes best served warm.
Interestingly enough, the coconut flour in this recipe did not impart a coconut flavor to the cake as I thought it might. For those who may be gluten sensitive, it may be worth experimenting with this recipe and using all coconut flour. Due to the way it absorbs liquid, baking with coconut flour does require you use more eggs and, in this recipe, I included extra baking powder and sour cream to increase the moisture and leavening of the cake. I also intentionally did not add a lot of sugar to the batter since originally I was going to soak the cake with a basil syrup. I like the way it’s just sweet enough, especially when paired with the mango-basil sauce. This cake reheats well, about 1 minute per slice in the microwave, and the flavors became even more heavenly two days after making it.