Gingerbread upside down cake with apples and bourbon cream

I don’t like letting go of summer. The light closes in too early, and I’m pre-mourning the cold, raw days ahead. Somebody please slap me.

There are way too many things we can do nothing about, and the longer I live, the longer the list. The weather is one of them. I’m a spring and summer girl—maybe because I was born in June, just as the promise of light and warm days ahead peaks. Or maybe it’s because I’m a morning person. I love the feeling of the day stretching out ahead, not yet squandered. That’s what early summer feels like to me. So I grumble a little more than I should when the air turns chilly, and I leave you fall and winter people to revel in the change of season.

Letting go is hard, and it’s a daily process that doesn’t quit. You’ve got to take out the trash every single day, and I’m not talking about the kitchen garbage. But there are consolations: taking what today brings and leaving yesterday behind has its rewards. And if you struggle to appreciate them, there are consolations to help you get over the hump. 

Like cake.

Any cake would do, but this one sweetens the deal with its dark, warm spices and sugary brown apples on top. It should be served warm, preferably with bourbon whipped cream, an idea I borrowed from Molly O’Neill. Molly made her cake with grated fresh ginger, apple butter, and warm apples on top. The recipe here is an old favorite of mine. I’ll be serving it with Molly’s bourbon cream, while I wait for her to share her recipe. And no, I am not going to sit around and wait for spring. That would be a particularly futile kind of torture. I’m vowing to inhale each day as it comes. Wish me luck.

You can turn the oven on now.

Upside-down gingerbread with apples
Make 1 9-inch square cake

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples or other firm cooking apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1. Heat the oven to 350° degrees. Butter a 9-inch square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sprinkle 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the bottom.
2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat,. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar and stir until the mixture bubbles. Add the apples to the pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes, or until the apples are lightly caramelized but still hold their shape. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. Arrange the apple slices in one layer in the bottom of the pan, with the darkest side down.

1 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup coffee, at room temperature

1. Whisk the flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a bowl until blended.
2. Beat the butter and brown sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed,  until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
3. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the molasses and coffee and mix to blend.
Add the flour mixture, and continue to beat on low speed, until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often with a rubber spatula.
4. Distribute large spoonfuls of batter over the apples. Use the back of the spoon to spread the batter evenly in the pan, taking care not to disturb the apples. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 2 minutes.
5. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Invert a plate on top of the cake. Use oven mitts to grasp both the plate and the pan with two hands. Flip the cake over and allow it to drop onto the plate. Peel off the parchment paper.
6. When cooled slightly, cut the cake into squares and serve with Bourbon whipped cream if you like.


Be careful not to overwhip the cream. The best way to do this is to beat it just until soft, floppy peaks form, then finish beating by hand with a wire whisk. The cream should be soft, not too thick or stiff.

1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon Bourbon, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Beat the cream and sugar together until soft peaks form (do not whip all the way.) Add the bourbon and vanilla, and whisk briefly by hand with a wire whisk until blended.


  1. This sounds amazingly good! I'm going to have to see if I can low/carb/Paleo-fy it. I see some substitution possibilities that just might make this work for my way of eating. Thanks for posting!

    1. Let me know how you do that--sounds interesting!

  2. great idea. I think those flavor combos sound amazing.

  3. I'm not a coffee drinker. Do you think things will go wacky if I leave it out?

    1. Not at all. You could substitute water, or orange juice or apple cider for the coffee. The coffee gives the gingerbread a little more of an edge. I think you could even add some flat, dark beer or stout like Guinness. But like I said, water will do the trick, too.

  4. This looks delicious! I will definitely try it!

  5. Consider yourself slapped, honey chile. For those who don't drink, try this one: substitute a very little ground ginger, confectioners sugar and lemon rind for the bourbon, sugar and vanilla.

    1. Great idea Leela--that's a neat trick!

  6. Mmm, this sounds gorgeous! I've been looking for a good upside down cake flavour combination for ages, this sounds like a winner!

  7. I'm one of those fall/winter people. Maybe because I was born in November?
    Thank you for your beautiful blog, Sally.
    I might even try to make this cake. Looks delish.
    : )

  8. Love the photos! I also don't like letting go of summer. I dislike short days and dark skies. However, October is not the most difficult month to handle for me, as the weather can be quite nice and I get pretty excited about the new apple and pear crop. Very nice cake!

  9. Hi Sally,

    What a lovely cake! Apples and ginger are one of my favorite combinations. Surprised I've never combined them in a cake before. Will put it on my to do list :)

    Big hug,

  10. Ended up going with orange juice.

    Because we've been getting apples nonstop in our CSA, this was a total pantry recipe. Even without the whipped cream, myohmy, this was fantastic. Rich made me promise to leave him "one" piece before he left to run some errands. Great recipe, thanks so much for sharing it.

    1. Molly, I missed this comment. So glad you tried it. And liked it, too! Very gratifying.

  11. Hi, Sally--I'm already a fan of gingerbread AND upside-down cake, so bravo to you for combining them. This looks and sounds great. Wonderful B&Ws, especially the rainy view through the window. Ken