Frying Pan Cake

Say "upside-down cake" to someone and just watch their face. Their eyebrows may elevate in delight. A smile will start to spread and an "oooh" may form on their lips. In the lexicon of recipe titles, this one is near the top of the fun list. Its topsy-turvy name and nostalgic appeal is so stellar even Diana Ross sang this baked treat a groovy tribute.

While upside-down cake shouts good times, it also invites thoughts of panic about 'the moment' of turning said cake on its head, and brings to mind the need for specialty baking pans, which you probably don't own and would have to run out and buy in order to make it.

Stop. Stay where you are. All you need to bake this cake is… a frying pan. That’s right, gyrate on into the kitchen and whip out your skillet. It’s baking time.

I made this cake for the first time to serve to guests — a daredevil move I generally advise against — and was wowed by how simple it turned over, and turned out to be.

This recipe is also an excellent foray into baking with rhubarb. Rhubarb is in season and the long stalks can been seen stretching out all over greengrocers and markets of the farmer and super variety. The stalks range in colour from dark pink to light green (I point this out to allay fears in anyone who saw the photo and thought I baked a celery cake) and the hue doesn't affect the taste. If, like me, you don’t like your desserts super sweet, the mellow tartness of rhubarb is an ideal starring ingredient.

Upside-Down Rhubarb Cake
Adapted from: Desserts: Over 200 Classic Recipes from Around the World

At first glance this book appears one you’d pass up — it looks glossy in a generic way, there’s no known chef attached, and it’s published by the rather staid Reader’s Digest. I received it as a gift and have been impressed by the recipes I’ve made so far, and appreciate the clear instructions and multitude of photos. Choosing an international trio of authors makes sense for a book promising recipes from around the world. The recipe quantities are even given in metric and imperial figures.

The book's introduction asks: “Have you ever wished you could wave a magic wand at the end of a meal and produce the perfect apple pie...?"

Disney-style magic isn’t going to get this done for you, but some basic ingredients, a frying pan, and a little Diana Ross playing in the background sure will.

1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter
1 cup (200g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
12 ounces (350g) trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces
1 1/3 cups (200g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup (180ml) buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 large eggs
1/3 cup (90ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (essence)
2 tablespoons candied ginger, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C/gas 4). Over medium heat, melt the butter in a frying pan (recipe advises using a 9.5 inch/24 cm pan but I used an 11 inch pan and was happy with the results. Make sure the pan is overproof, including the handle). 

Stir in the ground ginger and 1/2 cup (100g) of the brown sugar, stirring constantly as this mix cooks for a few minutes. Take off the heat and topple the chopped rhubarb on top of this carmelised goodness making sure it’s somewhat evenly distributed.

In a medium bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl use an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk to beat together the remaining brown sugar with the buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, oil, and vanilla extract, then stir in the candied ginger. Beat in the flour mix, on low speed, until thoroughly combined.

Pour the cake mix on top of the frying pan ingredients, and smooth out the surface.

Pop the frying pan into the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes. It’s ready when the cake is golden brown and feels springy when you touch the center. Cool for 10 minutes.

Now for the exhilarating part! Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Place a big plate, or dish on top, making sure it covers the entire pan well. Now quickly flip the pan over. Et voila, your cake is upside down, and the glimmering rhubarb and brown sugar glaze is on show. Delicious served warm with ice cream or if left to cool, with a dollop of whipped cream.

Love your Leftovers: The stickiness of this cake keeps it from drying out. Place in an air tight container or under a cake dome and enjoy it for a few days.


  1. "Topsy-turvy name and nostalgic appeal"... you are so right... I have the fondest memories of my mum's Pineapple Upside Down Cake which was always an emergency dessert option - and a total treat for me... I baked a few myself at school too but have totally forgotten what to do...

    This is my first visit to your blog (arrived via a convoluted route - Marches TV's Paper.li Daily via Twitter - but you have inspired me!! If the urge stays with me til the weekend and I do end up baking one, I shall tweet you a photo! :)

  2. sounds delicious, I am going to try it with fructose instead of sugar, what do you think of using wholemeal flour instead of plain?
    I know you will say give the diet a rest, but honestly I need to give it a healthier cloak to be able to polish it off ;-)

  3. Claire - So glad you found the blog and feel inspired by the topsy-turvy recipe. Give it a go this weekend and send me a photo!

    Anonymous - I'm all for tweaking a recipe to make it a few notches less naughty, as long as it's still tasty! You might want to try doing half plain flour, half wholemeal, and see how that goes. I wouldn't want it to be too dense, it's actually a lighter cake than it looks. Please let me know how it turns out...

  4. I bought rhubarb in our American market recently as well and fixed Timothy a rhubarb pie- which he loved! He was a newbie to rhubarb though, had never tried it-do you southern kids not get fed rhubarb down there? Must try your cake recipe next.


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