Pecan Upside Down Cake Recipe

This pecan upside down cake recipe is the perfect compromise for those who love pecan pie but also love a tender cake. It’s not as sugary sweet as a pecan pie, which is one of the things I love most about the recipe.

This cake has a rich pecan flavor that’s lightly spiced with cinnamon, and it’s topped off with a perfect brown sugar caramel glaze that is beyond easy. So, instead of making pecan pie this year, make this showstopper cake for your Thanksgiving dessert (you can thank me later).

pecan upside down cake on a white and wood platter with a black background

A Note About This Cake

This cake was a fun journey, but it took some interesting turns. As a recipe developer and baking instructor, I’m always thinking through every detail and every possible thing that can go wrong.

I test thoroughly so I know how to help bakers in my classes, and I pushed the limits as I tested this recipe.

My first round of testing was pretty good. Then I made some adjustments that took this cake out into left field (but not in a good way). Let’s just say I had one of the worst cake fails I’ve ever had during the testing process, and it was comical. The cake started as a beautiful batter that turned into a bubbling mess and then flattened.

This all happened within 30 minutes of baking.

Luckily, I understood the science behind what I was trying to accomplish, and I was able to course correct. Seven variations later, along with several taste tests, I finally got it right. And now I get to share it with you!

What’s in a Pecan Upside Down Cake?

The ingredients in pecan upside down cake include pecan halves, two types of sugar, cake flour, leavener, butter, shortening, vanilla, cinnamon, heavy cream, salt, and eggs.

There are four main parts in this dessert: First, there’s a brown sugar caramel glaze that adds flavor and texture to the cake.

Second, there’s a layer of pecans nestled in the glaze.

Third is the actual cake that’s lightly swirled with a cinnamon mixture.

And fourth, a thin caramel glaze that takes this cake to the next level of goodness.

pecan upside down cake showing a slice pulled out from the cake

3 Tips for Making the Perfect Upside Down Cake

1. Whip the Butter

It’s vital to mix the butter, shortening, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. This method traps more air in the batter, which helps the cake to rise naturally without the need for a lot of leavening agent.

2. Bake Until Done

What does it mean when a recipe says to bake until a cake is done? Growing up, I always thought it meant a toothpick should come out completely clean after inserting it into the cake.

In my professional training, I learned that a cake is done when you insert a paring knife or toothpick into the center of the cake, and it comes out with just a few crumbs on it. This is important because the cake continues to bake a little more once it comes out of the oven.

upside down pecan cake unglazed

3. Don’t Cut the Cake Too Soon

Do not cut into this cake until it has completely cooled. If there’s one sure way to ruin a cake, it’s by cutting into it while warm, and before the cake is fully set. I recommend giving this cake four hours to cool completely before cutting and serving.

If you want to make this cake on the same day you plan to serve it for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hannukah, make it far enough ahead so it can cool. You can also find other holiday dessert ideas here.

Best Cake Pan for This Recipe

The best cake pan for this recipe is a light-colored 9-inch cake pan. Do not use dark-coated pans or old pans that tend to have issues with sticking.

For most cakes, the optimal choice is a silver, gold, or light-colored pan that helps the cake to bake evenly. If you use a dark pan, the outside of the cake will bake too fast and will finish baking before the interior. This doesn’t lead to a great result when the outside is overbaked! I would not recommend using throw-away foil pans either for this recipe.

I use these gold pans from Williams-Sonoma and these silver pans. Both work well and get the job done.

photo showing the shiny top glaze on the pecan cake

How to Make Pecan Upside Down Cake

  1. Combine the brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt in a pot and boil for 30 seconds.
  2. Pour the glaze into a buttered cake pan, and then arrange the pecans in the cake pan.
  3. Make cinnamon and brown sugar mixture and set aside.
  4. Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy. Add the brown sugar and dry ingredients and mix.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the batter and mix until smooth.
  6. Then, add the eggs in four additions.
  7. Spread batter in cake pan and layer with cinnamon mixture.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes, cool for 10, and then flip over onto a serving plate.
  9. Add remaining glaze and cool for 4 hours. Serve as is or with a touch of whipped cream.

2 Ways to Arrange the Pecans on the Cake

There are two ways to arrange the pecans on this pecan upside down cake.

First Method: You can arrange them in concentric circles so they make a beautiful pattern, as is often seen on pecan pies. Pick pecan halves that are whole (not broken) and are mostly the same size. It might not be possible to get all the exact same size of pecan halves, but find ones that are similar in size.

This helps you create a definite wow effect.

Second method: Sprinkle the pecans over the glaze and gently spread the pecans out to cover the bottom of the pan. This gives your cake a more rustic or homey feel, and it’s faster. It’s not quite as pretty, but the flavor is just as good.

You can also come up with your own design. But these are two simple and easy ways to create a beautiful pecan cake.

slice of pecan upside down cake on a rustic plate with a gold fork showing off the glaze on top

Why You Need the Brown Sugar Glaze

The glaze plays an important role in this cake. As the pecan upside down cake bakes, the glaze caramelizes the pecans and the sizes of the cake…which happen to be my favorite parts of the cake!

The first time I made this cake, I didn’t expect the sides to caramelize during baking, but I was delighted when it happened. The caramelization gives the edges of the cake a nice, crisp bite, and a wonderful flavor. The perfect finish for this cake experience.

How to Serve and Store This Cake

To Serve

This cake is best eaten just as it is. It doesn’t need ice cream or whipped cream. If I’m being honest, adding more flavors will detract from all that this cake has going for it!

To Store

Store your upside-down pecan cake at room temperature in a covered container for up to one week. However, this cake is best eaten within 3 days for optimal freshness.

upside down pecan cake with praline pecans and glaze

To Freeze

You can also freeze this pecan cake for up to two months. If freezing, wrap individual slices in several layers of plastic wrap, and then place the slices in a freezer bag. You can also freeze the whole pecan upside down cake as long as it’s wrapped and sealed well.

Print

Pecan Upside Down Cake Recipe

photo showing the shiny top glaze on the pecan cake

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Make this pecan upside down cake in less than 20 minutes, and then bake. This is the perfect dessert for Christmas or any holiday that calls for a festive cake. And the best part? It stays moist and tender 4-5 days!

  • Author: Camille
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cool Time: 4 hours
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours 55 minutes
  • Yield: 810 servings 1x
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Creaming
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Units Scale

For the Brown Sugar Glaze

  • 85 g light brown sugar
  • 28 g unsalted butter
  • 35 ml heavy cream
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 75100 Whole Pecan Halves

Cinnamon Filling

  • 50 g brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

For the Pecan Cake

  • 128 g unsalted butter, room temp (65 F)
  • 42 g vegetable shortening
  • 200 g granulated sugar
  • 50 g light brown sugar
  • 180 g cake flour
  • 1/2 + 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Morton’s kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 115 ml evaporated milk (not skim)
  • 35 g full-fat sour cream
  • 125 g egg, room temp (approx 2 1/2 large eggs w/out shell)

For the Pecan Glaze

  • 90 g light brown sugar
  • 40 g dark corn syrup
  • 13 g heavy cream
  • 21 g unsalted butter
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

To Make Brown Sugar Glaze

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F, then butter a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
  2. Combine brown sugar glaze ingredients (except pecans and cinnamon) in a medium pot over medium heat. Whisk and bring to a boil for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the cinnamon.
  3. Pour the glaze into the buttered pan and tilt the pan to spread the glaze around the bottom.
  4. Arrange the pecan halves in concentric circles until the pan is completely full. Alternatively, scatter pecans over the glaze until the bottom of the pan has an even layer of pecans. Set aside.

Make the Cinnamon Filling

  1. Combine light brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

To Make the Pecan Upside Down Cake

  1. Combine butter, shortening, and granulated sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and mix on speed 3 (for a 10 speed mixer) or on medium-low for 1-2 minutes, or until slightly light and fluffy. Don’t mix until super light, or it will be overwhipped.
  2. Add the light brown sugar, cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until the ingredients are mostly combined. The batter doesn’t need to be completely smooth yet.
  3. Combine the evaporated milk, sour cream, and vanilla in a measuring cup and stir. With the mixer on low, slowly pour the liquid into the batter. Mix until combined.
  4. Next, gently whisk the eggs and pour them into the mixer in 4 additions, allowing each addition of egg to mix in thoroughly before adding the next.
  5. Stop mixing once the batter is smooth and creamy.
  6. Gently pour 3/4 of the cake batter over the pecans and smooth.
  7. Next, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the batter, then top with the remaining cake batter and spread to seal in most of the cinnamon sugar.
  8. Bake on the middle rack for 35-45 minutes. The top will be very golden brown when finished. If the cake is browning too fast, lightly place a piece of foil on top for the remainder of the bake time. Do not open the oven before 30 minutes, as this can cause the cake to collapse. 
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Run a thin paring knife around the edges of the rim of the cake. Place a cake stand or cake plate on top of the cake pan, and then flip the cake over so the pecans are showing on top of the cake.
  10. Do not slice until the cake is completely cool so the crumb can set properly (approx. 3-4 hours). Once cool, make the glaze as follows.

To Make the Top Glaze

  1. Add the final glaze 1-2 hours before serving. To make the glaze, combine the butter, brown sugar, salt, heavy cream, and dark corn syrup in a small pot. Heat over medium-high heat and boil for one minute while whisking.
  2. Pour the glaze over the cake and cool completely. 
  3. This cake can be stored in a covered container at room temperature for up to one week, but it’s best eaten within 3-4 days.

Notes

This is a Baker Street Society original recipe

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