Star fruit upside-down cake

We decorated the Christmas tree this week, which is the official beginning of the holidays in our house. It’s not really a tree in the botanical sense of the word, but the cut-off, dried flower stalk of an agave plant. This is what campesinos use for their Christmas trees in Mexico, so we have been told, and it sounded like a good idea to us. With real pine trees, from Oregon no less, starting at $100 in Puerto Vallarta, our agave flower stalk is convenient (our lower front yard) and cheap (free). Once the tree is decorated, it’s my cue to start Christmas baking. Russ’es fruitcake is doused with spirits and spirited away, hidden from him until Christmas week. Tequila balls, aka rum balls north of the border, are ageing, and a bright, star fruit upside-down cake seems Christmasy with its golden, crosscut slices.

Star fruit, also known as carambola in Spanish speaking countries, are from tropical regions, but somehow one is thriving in our neighbor Chuy’s yard at 4,000 feet elevation in the mountains. In keeping with the local spirit of generosity, we received a large bag, too many for two people to consume. We are doing our best, eating star fruit every day in fruit salads, and now in an upside-down cake.

My favorite upside-down cake recipe is from Joy of Cooking, well used, stained, and somewhat tattered. It was my first cookbook, and is still the one I turn to most often. Where else could you read about steaming fresh bracken fern or making oxtail soup? Some of the recipes may be dated, but so many have been tried and true through the decades, and the recipe for Skillet or Upside-down Cake (page 607 in my 1967 edition) is one of them. The sweet-tart star fruit made a great cake topping. I confirmed this by eating two slices in a row.

Joy of Cooking calls for beating the egg whites, then folding in the other ingredients for an airy cake. As is my norm, I substituted whole wheat flour and used considerably less sugar. Years ago, I began decreasing sugar in baking recipes and found that taste buds easily adjusted. The palate’s senses are relative, it seems. What was once an OK sweet level is now so cloying in its excess. Use white flour and quadruple the sugar if you prefer the original recipe.

Star Fruit Upside Down Cake serves 8

  • 1/4 cup (2 oz/57 g) butter, plus 1 tablespoon (.5 oz/14 g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (1.8 oz/55 g) brown sugar
  • 6 oz (170 g) star fruit, sliced 1/4″ (.64 cm) thick, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup (28 g) dried cranberries
  • 1 cup (4.4 oz/125 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup (1.78 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. If using a 9″ (23 cm) cast iron skillet, melt 1/4 cup (57 g) butter over low heat, stirring in brown sugar until sugar is dissolved and mixture is foamy. If using a cake pan, melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in brown sugar until foaming. Spread evenly in cake pan.
  2. Place sliced star fruit closely together, filling gaps between slices with cranberries.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350F (190C).
  4. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Whisk egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla in small bowl.
  6. Beat egg whites at low speed until frothy. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition.
  7. Fold in egg yolk mixture.
  8. Fold in flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until there is no visible dry flour.
  9. Spoon batter into pan over fruit, smoothing it level.
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking with a toothpick for a dry crumb.
  11. Let rest in pan for 2-3 minutes. Slide thin knife around inside edge of pan and carefully invert onto plate, scraping out any butter/sugar that remains in pan.
  12. Serve warm or cool with crema, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt. It goes without saying that slices are wonderful for breakfast with coffee or tea.

Notes ~

~ Star fruit is a fall and winter fruit. It is fully ripe when the ribs are starting to turn brown. The thin, outer layer of brown ribs can be removed with a vegetable peeler. A sweet aroma also indicates ripeness.

~ Slices make attractive garnishes on fish and other main dishes, and combine well with avocado and orange juice for a refreshing salad.

~ Whole wheat flour should be fresh, otherwise it can have a bitter flavor. For this reason, it’s best kept refrigerated. When fresh, it has a nutty, sweet flavor compared to white flour, which has no flavor at all. Anything baked with whole wheat flour not only tastes better, but has a higher nutritional content because the bran and wheat germ have not been removed. In Mexico, Espuma de Chapala Harina Integral is my choice for whole wheat flour, though it needs to be sifted for cake baking to remove the bran. Save the bran for muffins.

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18 thoughts on “Star fruit upside-down cake

  1. Lisa

    I’m a bit behind in my reading and just now saw this. It’s wonderful. I never would have thought about using them this way. Too bad I just learned. We lived for a season in Casa Carambola and had plenty of them.

    1. We have never had our own carambola tree, but usually found a neighbor who was willing to share. They seem to be such prolific trees, loaded with fruit. Considering the quantity one tree can bear, the fruit is seldom seen in produce markets in Mexico, though I read that they can be found in large metro area stores in the U.S.

  2. annekejennings9191

    As usual, each one of your new posts is the equivalent of a Christmas present. Would love to see your “campesino Christmas tree”! Would you be up for sharing a picture? Happy holiday season wishes from us to you both❣️
    Love always!

  3. That is a beautiful cake… Never thought of using Star fruit. Love it in breakfast smoothies and it is also delicious in a margarita. You are so creative. I always enjoy your blog. Merry Christmas!

  4. annekejennings9191

    Loved your blog as usual Kathleen❣️Each one is like a little Christmas gift! Would love a pic of your “campesino tree”, if you are up for sharing! Wishing you both a happy and safe holiday season from us both. xoxo

    1. I sift the whole wheat flour, then measure out the amount for the recipe. Some whole wheat flours are fine enough so sifting is not necessary, but the kind I get here contains coarse bran.
      Thanks. Russ enjoys his treats, and in return, provides tasting critique. :)

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