Blackberry Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake

Years ago, at the beginning of my adventures in the Bay Area food scene, when I had just graduated from a six month Baking and Pastry program at the famed Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco when it was still a cooking school, I got a job working as a pastry assistant at the Frog Hollow Farm Cafe in the Ferry Building. I still remember waking before dawn to ride my fixed gear bike to the 19th Street BART station in Oakland where I'd hop on and ride to the Embarcadero stop. The air was chilly, the streets were quiet and as I unlocked the creaky gate to the store, the sun was just starting to rise behind the Bay Bridge. I'd set out sheet pans and whisk eggs and butter cake pans as light started to dance in through the giant east-facing windows. About an hour after my arrival, the barista would get there and, if I was lucky, offer to make me a double soy latte while we set out the scones and pastries and cookies and cakes that were coming from my ovens. This recipe was inspired by a standby I baked a lot in those days, the Chez Panisse Fruit Upside Down Cake. My adaptation uses blackberries and a gluten-free grain blend as well as a few extra tasty bits. Warning: though this is a large cake, it can be, and has been on many occasions, eaten by a single person in very few sittings. Milk or vanilla ice cream must be served alongside.



2 cups fresh blackberries (I'd just picked mine fresh from Gauchito Hill Farm!)

2 Tablespoons butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup raw cane sugar


4 oz. butter

1 cup raw cane sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 egg yolks (reserve whites)

3/4 cup gluten-free flour blend (or whole-wheat pastry flour)

1/2 cup almond meal

6 Tablespoons cornmeal (I use Full Belly Farm's Bloody Butcher Cornmeal)

2 Tablespoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar



  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and get yourself a nice 9" x 3" cake pan.
  2. Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat, then whisk in 1/2 cup brown sugar. Continue whisking until the sugar is emulsified, then add in the blackberries, cooking and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture bubbles, about two minutes. Stir 1/2 cup raw cane sugar into berries and crush the berries slightly with a the back of your spoon. Continue cooking until berries are hot and slightly broken-down, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and pour directly into the 9-inch cake pan. Put pan into the fridge or freezer to firm up a bit while you proceed.
  3. In a stand mixer, whip the butter and cane sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
  4. Add in the vanilla, then lower the mixer speed to medium and slowly add in the egg yolks, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. 
  5. Sift the dry ingredients together.
  6. Lower the mixer speed to medium-low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, making sure each addition gets thoroughly mixed in (add 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the milk, then 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the milk, then finally add the last 1/3 of the flour). Move this batter to a large bowl and clean out your mixer bowl.
  7. To your clean mixer bowl, add the three egg whites and cream of tarter. Whip on high using the whisk attachment until they hold some shape (medium peaks).
  8. Fold this egg white mixture into your batter in thirds. Make sure to treat it delicately -- no rough stirring -- the goal is to retain as much air as possible in the whites so your cake will be light!
  9. Spread/pour the batter evenly over the blackberry mixture and bake 25-35 minutes.
  10. The cake is done when it's a nice golden color on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (except of course for blackberry juice!) Let the cake cool sufficiently before turning out -- I waited two hours! But I reckon 30 minutes would do. I ran a butter knife around the inside of the cake pan, then placed a large plate over the top of the pan and flipped the pan. I had to do a little tapping with my knife on the bottom of the pan to encourage the blackberry caramel to release, but it eventually did and I lifted the pan slowly to reveal the beauty.
  11. I topped my cake with fresh-picked strawberries that had been macerated in a little sugar since it was July 4th and all, but this cake is delicious as is.
  12. If you don't plan to eat it in one sitting, it'll keep covered at room temperature for another day or in the fridge for several more :)