Wednesday, December 2, 2015

An Utter Abomination of a Cake I Will Never Bake Again

I present Caramelized Onion and Mango Upside-Down Cake: 

Sometimes when you improvise when you cook it comes out well (e.g. this previous post). Sometimes, unfortunately, you end up with something you regret making.

It was supposed to be a rhubarb upside-down cake, but mutated into the unpleasant-looking caramelized onion and mango upside-down cake you see here.

I'm a fan of rhubarb. I have a loose-leaf binder where I collected printed out recipes from back in the days when it wasn't possible to store the recipes on the cloud (that would be the 1990s). On one of the binder's dividers, I have a tab labeled "Rhubarb". I'm guessing most people who collect recipes end up never making most of them (I've never made "rhubarb-aide"), but there's one recipe I've made a few times, although the last time was a number of years ago, which is for a rhubarb upside-down cake (here's the recipe I had printed, as posted on in 1993. It looks like the the recipe is supposedly "healthy" - I've always replaced the margarine with butter, and use a whole egg instead of two egg whites).

CC Stephen Bowler

A couple years ago in our garden, we planted rhubarb. This year was the first time it thrived and produced some nice big stalks. But, I didn't end up harvesting it until last week, the second week in November. There were three usable stalks left this late in the season.

To start the cake, in a 9"x9" cake pan, I put a 1/4 cup of melted butter and a pressed down 1 cup of brown sugar for what becomes the caramel on the top of an upside-down cake.

Then as I started slicing the rhubarb to put on the layer of sugar and butter, I decided to taste a slice. And its taste was missing the most important virtue of rhubarb - its tartness. None of the rhubarb was tart, and without the tartness, I was not going to be making a rhubarb upside-down cake. Not wanting to the waste the butter and sugar that was already in the pan, it was time to come up with another plan for another type of upside-down cake.

My first thought was apples, but the bowl on our kitchen counter non-refrigerated produce had none. And it was Thanksgiving morning, and although there are markets open and I could have bought some, there was something else in the bowl - onions. Caramelized onions are sweet. Why not a caramelized onion upside-down cake?

And that's where everything went wrong.

CC Allison Matherly
So, I sliced up three onions, and for the next 45 minutes I caramelized them in butter. While the onions were cooking, I thought it would still be nice if there was some fruit on top with the onions. Apples would be my first choice (remembering the pork dishes I've had with apples and onions), but with no apples, an alternative was needed.

I remembered over a year ago I bought a bag of frozen mango at Trader Joe's. After digging around the bottom of our freezer for a few minutes, I found the mango, and defrosted it in a bowl of water. Okay, after being so long in the freezer, it had some freezer burn and a slight taste of something left too long in the freezer - but with all the sugar on top of the cake, I was pretty sure it wouldn't matter.
CC Rachel Andrew
And thus, the rhubarb upside-down cake had completed its mutation into a a caramelized onion and mango upside-down cake. 

I also thought I could improve the cake batter by spicing it up with cardamom. But our cardamom was so old that it barely had a scent or flavor. So instead, for spice I grated about a tablespoon of ginger root and the pinch of saffron we had left in a bottle on the spice rack.

I put the caramelized onion over the brown sugar in the cake pan, placed a layer of cubed mango, and poured the batter over it and put it in the oven.

While baking, instead of getting the lovely scent of baking cake, there was the oniony scent that you get when roasting brisket with onions. That's when I knew the cake wasn't going to meet my expectations.

After taking it out of the oven, letting it cool for a bit, and then flipping it over onto a plate, I ended up with the unappetizing-looking cake you see pictured at the top of this post.

And its taste? It was, well odd. Not bad, just an unfortunate mix of flavors, and the stringy texture of the onions out of place on a cake. My son hated it. My wife thought it was, "Okay." I still brought it to our friends' Thanksgiving gathering to see if anyone would dare have a piece. There was one taker who found it, "Interesting."

As we were helping our hosts clean up as our Thanksgiving visit was ending, I plopped the cake into their compost bin to be picked up by the City of Seattle's Public Utilities on the next trash day. Next spring, its transformed remains will be spread as compost somewhere, hopefully to grow something delicious or beautiful, two qualities the cake never had.

Later I found a recipe for "sweet-onion & apple upside-down cake" on The one review for that recipe matches my feelings about my cake:

I made this with high hopes, but it just wasn't for me. It's kind of like eating dinner and dessert all in one. Thanks, but I don't think I'll be making this one again. ~Amy

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