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(recipe, Melissa Clark)
There is cake served with fruit compote, and then there is an upside-down cake. The two are similar on the surface — both consist of cakes topped with cooked sugared fruit — but the differences in texture and flavor are profound. Upside-down cake is better. This is because spreading a layer of sweetened fruit beneath the batter accomplishes several delectable things. The compote continues to caramelize in the oven, turning butterscotchy, candied, and shiny, while delicately flavoring the cake batter through and through. Plus, in this particular example, the syrupy topping helps keep the cake moist for several days, while the cornmeal in the batter keeps everything from getting soggy. I make a version of this rustic, coarse-crumbed upside-down cake all year long, varying the fruit to match what's around. But summer, when I always buy too much fruit to eat between market visits, is the ideal time. It's one of the few homey, not-too-sweet summer treats worth turning the oven on for. Even in August.
If you don't feel like simmering up the plum compote, you can use any kind of jam in the bottom of the pan. You'll need about 1 1/2 cups. Orange marmalade is especially good because it's nice and tart. And I like it. You can simmer a cinnamon stick along with the plums; it will add a subtle layer of toasty spice to the juicy plums. Although you can probably use almost any fruit in this recipe, I like tangier, more acidic fruits best to counter all the sugar you need to use to create a caramelized topping. I think plums, rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, apricots, and the classic pineapple work better than milder blueberries, peaches, and pears. If you would like to use low-acid fruit, add a healthy squeeze of lemon or lime juice to the compote, along with grated zest if you like the flavor of it. Blueberry upside-down cake is terrific with a good jolt of lime juice and zest. Speaking of citrus zest, a little tangerine or lemon zest is a zippy addition in the cake batter. Or for something fragrant, try a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg or ground cardamom, which is especially lovely with plums.