I debated about telling you about this, but I'm just gonna put it all out there, people. The Piece of Cake kitchen (which is to say ME) has been on a diet. Like, an honest-to-God, excruciatingly boring, buckets of salad, no-sugar diet. Today is Day 9. Perhaps you can guess by my counting of the days that said diet has not been fun. You would be correct in guessing that. Congratulations. Take yourself out for the ice cream that I can't have.
Now if you've been around here for a while, you might be saying, "What?! This is not the Shauna we know! The Shauna we know laughs in the face of calorie counters and sleeps with a bag of granulated sugar on her nightstand!" Well. That would also be correct. However, with the cookbook manuscript now complete, it was high time for a reset. A hard reset. When you give a person with a mouth full of sweet teeth an occupational reason to eat candy and cake all the livelong day for many, many months, the result is definitely not smaller pants, I'll just tell you that right now. I'm not trying to become an Olsen triplet or anything, I just need to sort of regulate the whole situation over here, you feel me?
So I'm going hard core just for the next couple weeks, all protein and vegetables and sparkling water like a psycho Bravo Network housewife. The goal is to reduce sugar cravings (or at least get them somewhere near a non-epidemic level) and not bleed corn syrup when I cut myself shaving. After that, I'll gradually start getting back to healthy levels of dessert consumption (read: maybe not, oh, say, five flippin' times per day). Truthfully, despite being waaay out of my comfort zone, I am feeling a whole lot better already. But that doesn't mean I'm going to start throwing brownies made with black beans and Splenda or some other crazy talk at you. Evidence: a perfectly lovely Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake. Or, as I like to call it, The Last Dessert before all this no-sugar diet nonsense started.
For your own sense of well-being, I really, really hope strawberries are as glorious where you are as they are in California right now. And if you are in California, can I get a HECK YEAH? Glittering cartons of berries are spilling over in the supermarkets right now, and if you head out to some of the smaller towns, you'll find tons of the kind of charming little ramshackle roadside fruit stands that food magazine dreams are made of. The berries taste like candy, they smell like flowers, they are absolute perfection straight up on their own.
But because I am who I am (never mind that I'm snacking on bell pepper strips, for the love of God), I feel like the thing Mother Nature intended for us to do with a pile of perfect in-season strawberries is to bake them into a tender buttermilk cake. Add a sweet-salty caramel to the mix to make those berries all glossy and jammy and OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL SOMEONE FOR A PIECE OF THIS CAKE RIGHT NOW.
Deep breath. This too, shall pass. Now go bake this cake and eat the whole thing and don't tell me about it.
Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake
Although this cake will keep nicely in a cake dome for a few days at room temperature, it's best eaten the day it's made. Serve with some unsweetened whipped cream and die of summer happiness.
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 pints strawberries, patted dry, hulled and halved
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Have ready a 9-inch nonstick cake pan. If your pan is not nonstick, spray it generously with cooking spray.
In a small saucepan, combine 4 tablespoons of the butter, the brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir over high heat until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes. Pour the caramel into the bottom of the cake pan and spread into an even layer. Arrange the strawberry halves over the caramel in a circular pattern, leaving little to no space between the berries.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the egg yolks. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour mixture with the buttermilk in three batches. When just a few streaks of flour remain, fold the batter by hand until smooth.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar to firm peaks. Stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest of the whites until the batter is smooth and well-blended. Pour the batter over the fruit and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting it onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with unsweetened whipped cream.