Upside Down Apple Pumpkin Cake


Over the years, I watched the Pillsbury Bake-off reward bigger and bigger prizes, often for what seemed like easier and easier dishes to make.

It would be fun, I thought, to have a recipe that would just get me to the final bake-off, a room full of cooks and mocked up kitchens, chaotic and fragrant and, well, just plain fun.

As the contest’s emphasis on mixes grew, I decided to try a recipe that would be a “can’t fail” entry. From the first time I baked my “million dollar cake” recipe, it was a hit with everyone who tasted it. I even got serious enough about this that I laughingly said I wouldn’t share the recipe until I was sure it was/wasn’t going to make it.

The testing was done, the recipe had been tried over and over, and I was ready for that year’s bake-off. Not having seen any paper entry forms as in years past, I checked the Pillsbury site and discovered they were now running the contest only every two years, so I would have to wait. I continued to make the cake for various gatherings and meals and continued to hear compliments and, yes, of course you need to submit this!

So I waited. Finally, it was time to get my entry in. Imagine, then,  my chagrin when I discovered that Pillsbury cake mixes were no longer eligible products for the contest!


A little research and here is what I learned (as summarized on everyone’s favorite research site, Wikepedia):

“Pillsbury is a brand name used by Minneapolis-based General Mills and Orrville, Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Company. Historically, the Pillsbury Company, also based in Minneapolis, was a rival company to General Mills and was one of the world’s largest producers of grain and other foodstuffs until it was bought out by General Mills in 2001. Antitrust law required General Mills to sell off some of the products. General Mills kept the rights to refrigerated and frozen Pillsbury products, while dry baking products and frosting are now sold by Smucker under license.”

So, Pillsbury cake mixes are not really “Pillsbury” products at all. Or rather, the “Pillsbury bake-off” is really the General Mills (ie, Betty Crocker!) bake-off. Really!?!

Whatever the corporate decisions, what this meant was that my wonderful million dollar cake would never make the grade as an entrant in this high power contest. 

I wasn’t exactly crushed, but it did take the fun out of making the cake for awhile. Then, when I was stirring it up for an event this week, I realized that I had not even included the recipe here on my blog. What a strange omission, since the cake really does fit into the frugal, fast, and fun criteria:

  • Frugal? This is the season to get the best buys on apples and canned pumpkin (or for making your own pumpkin puree from the last of the Halloween pumpkin decorations). 
  • Fast? If you don’t spend too much time agonizing over the arrangement of the apple slices, the cake goes together pretty quickly, and there is no need for making frosting. 
  • Fun? It really is fun to make this relatively easy dessert that turns out so beautifully. In fact, this could be a great cake to make with children–and they may have a lot more patience in getting the apples arranged just so. 

So here it is, just in time for the last of the “harvest” kinds of desserts before we fully move into Christmas cookies and breads, is the recipe. A couple of hints:

  • Though you start out with a cake mix made for just a 9 X 13 pan, you will want to use the larger pan size(s) to emphasize the apple part of the cake. Using round pans gives an especially elegant way to arrange the apples.
  • I prefer to use glass pans, just because I can see, in step 6, when the apples have completely dropped off the pan and onto the tray.
Million Dollar Upside Down Cake

1/2 c butter
3/4 c brown sugar
1 1/2 t cinnamon
approximately 1/2 to 1 c broken walnuts
4 to 5 medium apples, cored and sliced (about 12 slices from each apple)

1 yellow or white cake mix
2 eggs
2 c pumpkin puree (15 oz can)
1/3 c water
2 t cinnamon
1/2 to 1 t ginger, depending on how much you like ginger
1/2 t nutmeg

1.  Melt butter and stir in the brown sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Spread the mixture evenly in the bottom of a 12 X 15 cake pan (or two 7 X 11 pans or two 9″ round cake pans).

2.  Arrange the apple slices in rows (or in a circular pattern for the round cake pans) over the butter/sugar mixture so they cover the pan with as few spaces as possible. Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the top and set aside.

3.  Combine the cake mix and all remaining ingredients together, stirring with a mixer just to combine. Then beat for the length of time noted in the cake mix package directions. The batter will be quite thick.

4.  Drop spoonfuls of the batter evenly over the apples. Then use a spatula or knife to spread the batter evenly.
It is important to do this gently, to avoid moving the apples around and undoing all that careful work you put into arranging them so beautifully!

5.  Bake at 350 degrees (325 for a glass pan) for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Have a tray or serving plate ready.

Place this over the top of the pan and then quickly invert the pan and tray. The cake should easily drop on to the tray; leave the pan on top for a few minutes, perhaps even shaking slightly if a few of the apples continue to cling to the pan.

Hint:  As soon as the cake has dropped on to the tray and you remove the pan from on top, use a spatula to scrape off any of the caramel-y layer from the pan and spread it over the cake–this is way too good to leave in the pan!

 Serve the cake warm or cold.

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