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




The Glorious Gluten-Free Version of Strawberry Balsamic and Olive Oil Upside Down Cake: By Suzen O’Rourke

editted IMG_4214I was in error yesterday. The Strawberry Balsamic and Olive Oil Upside Down Cake was fine, but my description of the version that Suzen was so proud of – well, I did not do justice to her version.

Cooking by the Book works very closely with Center for Celiac Disease at Columbia University. Founded by Dr. Peter Green, the world’s foremost expert in celiac disease, the Center provides a variety of services for people with celiac. Those expanding rows of gluten-free products in your grocery store? They are in response to the rapidly growing population of children and adults who have developed the disease. Untreated, celiac can wreak havoc with both the patient and their family.

How does Cooking by the Book help? We offer monthly events for the Center’s patients, showing families how to prepare gluten-free dishes that are a match for any gluten-based dish out there. There is no reason, none at all, for someone with celiac to ever feel food-compromised. Our gluten-free meals here bring smiles to everyone.

Which is why Suzen was so proud of her gluten-free cake. It’s delicious. It’s every bit as incredible as the original. Suzen’s modifications to the recipe are included in the reworked recipe below.

What changes did Suzen have to make? Well, obviously, the flour in the original recipe had to go, replaced by a Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour, a product available from the famous grain product firm Bob’s Red Mill. If you have a special need, look to Bob’s to assist you.

Oh, three was one more change: adding some xanthan gum as a new dry ingredient. What’s that? Xanthan is produced by fermenting corn sugar — it seems corn is embedded into our culinary lives where ever we turn. Xanthan is a thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer. You most probably have had it in some dairy products or commercial salad dressing.

Here, the properties of xanthan are exactly what is needed to compensate for the absence of gluten and the structure that if provides in, say, a cake.

With or without gluten, this recipe is superior. Its creator has suggested it be consumed for an eye-opening breakfast. Let’s see: cereal or outstanding cake?

Cake, please!


Strawberry Balsamic and Olive Oil Upside Down Cake: Gluten Free Version

Yield: 8 to 10 servings


For the balsamic vinegar glaze and strawberry spiral:

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup golden balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey


For the cake:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup golden balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cup Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour from Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ⅔ cups olive oil




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray an 8-inch cake pan with olive oil spray. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper (this is an important step — it will help your cake release from the pan after baking without disturbing the arrangement of your strawberries). Spray again with olive oil.

Remove stems and slice strawberries vertically. Arrange them in a spiral, starting with the outside layer and overlapping slightly at the bottom of the cake pan.

Combine the brown sugar, golden balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey in a stainless steel pan and whisk to emulsify. Bring to a boil and stir frequently until thickened enough that it drips more slowly from your stirring spoon. Remove from heat and pour carefully over the arranged strawberries.

To make the cake batter, start by whisking together in one bowl the sugar, buttermilk, vinegar, and eggs.

In another bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, xanthan and salt.

Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients in three stages, stirring to incorporate each time.

Add your olive oil in 3 stages, folding and stirring to incorporate each time.

Slowly and carefully pour the batter over the strawberries. Don’t pour too rapidly, or you’ll displace your carefully-arranged spiral.

Bake for approximately an hour. The cake is done when the top is golden and it has pulled away slightly from the edges of the pan.

Cool for 10 minutes, and then run a knife between the cake and the pan to make sure it is completely loosened.

Put a flat plate atop the pan, and then, using potholders to protect your hands, quickly flip the cake while holding the plate tightly to the pan.

Slowly lift the pan, and the cake will be sitting, covered in parchment paper, on the plate. Peel off the parchment paper and be greeted by a beautiful spiral of sweet-tart fruit atop a golden cake.


Source: indieculinary at Food52c with modifications by Suzen O’Rourke

Photo Credits: Canon T2i, 18-55mm lens at F/4.5, 1/50 second at ISO 3200 [no flash]