Suzi's Blog

Onion, Fennel, and Orange Upside-Down Cake from Mary Cech


Mary Cech is a truly talented pastry chef and key instructor at the CIA’s Greystone campus in California. Her baking talent is unsurpassed. She’s taken that talent, and her Zen to translate sweet to savory, to create the recipes in Savory Baking, a book devoted to all savory and no sweets.

There may not be much sugar here, but here is no loss of grandness. Sometimes, sugar can be put aside. Sometimes great dessert ideas can really be translated into a savory main dish. To achieve that translation, you need abundant talent, Mary Cech style talent.

Take the standard upside-down shortcake. Replace the apples or peaches, that you love so well, with something with equally abundant flavor. Say you keep a little sweetness in the shortcake itself via orange juice. But the topping now is onion cooked until it is deep, deep purple. Caramelization is such a wonderful thing. Here, a little fennel seed is added just to, not confuse, but surely give some appealing deception to your palate.

The result is lovely. This is a dramatic side dish that can pair with any protein. Suzen roasted a butterflied chicken with tomatillos. The zing of the roasted tomatillos sang with the onion on the shortcake. Just two courses, but an astonishingly complete meal.

Mary’s book is now available on Kindle. You can download, browse and savor.

Onion, Fennel, and Orange Upside-Down Shortcake

Yield: serves 6 to 8


Onion Filling:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, thinly slice
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and crush
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and roughly chopped


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk


TO PREPARE THE ONION FILLING, put the onions, sherry, brown sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper in a large sauté or wide-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cover and cover for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking.

Stir in the water. Add the roasted red peppers to the onions. Cover, reduce the heat medium, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cut a piece of aluminum foil to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Place it in the bottom of the pan and generously oil or spray the foil and the sides of the pan. Spread the onions evenly in the pan, reserving some to spoon over the finished cake.

TO PREPARE THE SHORTCAKE, preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Add the butter and pulse for 10 seconds or until the butter is pea-size. Add the milk and pulse until the mixture starts to form into a dough. Carefully spread the dough over the onions, leaving no gaps and make sure the edges of the pan are covered with dough. Put the pan in the oven and bake just until the top of the cake feels firm in the center when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes (the top will not look brown). Transfer to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes.

RUN A SHARP KNIFE around the inside of the pan. Place and hold a large serving plate over the top of the pan and invert the cake pan and foil. Spoon the reserved onions over the cake. Cut into wedges and serve warm.Source: Savor Baking by Mary Cech

Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/7.1 for 1/15th second at ISO-3200



Not Your Mother’s Onion Dip from Diane Morgan



It’s mid-April. There is the chance that there will be no more snow. Time for shorts. Time for dips.

Oh, Suzen has just informed me that the picture above is of kolrabi, not onions. It’s a pretty picture. Pretend they are red onions. Do not proceed with kolrabi. My defense? I grew up with canned vegetables and never ate anything from a farmers market.

There are two ways to make onion dip. Adequate dip comes quickly, literally in a couple of minutes. Just open up that packet of onion soup mix, add in the sour cream, stir, and you are ready to dip and sip and enjoy. Truthfully, more onion soup mix has to be bought to make dip than soup. This dip is adequate, perhaps even good. It is not great.

That’s the second way to make dip, a great onion dip. It takes, end to end, almost an hour. Every minute of your investment will prove to be perfectly rewarding. This dip, courtesy of cookbook author maven Diane Morgan, is simply honed from every perspective: the ingredients, the relative proportions, the steps, the cooking times.

You’ll appreciate the difference at first taste. It may be onion dip, but it’s just so much more, not “just” onion dip. There is complexity and layering here that may be hard to explain but can easily be enjoyed.

In my kitchen I do have packets of soup mix. And I have real, fresh onions. There is no question about which path I will follow.

You can, by the way, have that first beverage of evening during the hour it takes to prepare this dip. Time flies and you should enjoy the changing rainbow of aromas that emerge as the onion complex shifts from one stage to the next.

Not Your Mother’s Onion Dip

Yield: 2 cups


  • 3 tablespoons pure olive oil
  • 3 large sweet onions (about 3 pounds), such as Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Maui, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 2 large shallots , finely diced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • ⅓ c u p balsamic vinegar
  • ⅓ cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


In a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-low heat, warm the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onions and cook, covered, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue sautéing, adjusting the heat to low if the onions begin to brown, until the onions are completely softened and begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes longer.

Add the shallots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes longer. Add the sugar and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the onions turn a beautiful caramel color, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. When the vinegar has evaporated, remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the onion mixture to a bowl and cool about 15 minutes.

Add the sour cream, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to the onion mixture. Stir until completely combined. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

This dip may be prepared up to 3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Serve at room temperature, or rewarm in a microwave or in a skillet over low heat just before serving.

Source: Delicious Dips by Diane Morgan [2004 Chronicle]

Photo Information [top picture]: Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/5.0 for 1/1000th second at ISO-3200