Notes From The Kona Coast: Mango Upside Down Cake with Macadamia Nuts

Mango Upside Down Cake? Yep. I am the kind of person who cooks on vacation. Especially if I am anywhere near a kitchen. Does that make me odd? I don’t think so. I think food is the quickest way to understand a new culture, so why not immerse myself in it.

Some people like to plop their butts down on the beach. And that’s just fine. I love the beach. But I love understanding a place just as much as vegetating in a place– so, as I said, I get into in the kitchen whenever I can.

To be fair this was not really a vacay kind of vacation. Because we are visiting friends who recently moved to Kona, HI. These friends like to eat and like to cook. So any time we spend together usually involves food and cooking. Oh yeah, and the card game Hearts. But, hey that’s just the kind of friends we are.

So, since I knew I was going to be in Hawaii and I knew I was going to be cooking I decided to bring my “A” game.

So one night late in our trip as I was laying in bed, I realized I had been awakened by an intoxicatingly sweet fragrance. Keep in mind this is Hawaii sweet aromas define the night air on the Big Island. I managed to drift fragrantly back to sleep, but I awoke the next morning hungry, happy and inspired to cook.

Mango Upside Down Cake


mango chunksIt did not take too much investigating to realize that it was a mango ripening on the counter that invaded my slumber in the most odiferous way the previous night. Well, when food taps me on the shoulder and wakes me from sleep, I know it is begging to be eaten. So right on the spot, I decided to do something sweet and luxurious with that fragrant yellow fellow. I remembered almost by accident that David Lebovitz had an “all-purpose” upside down cake recipe. He said any fruit was fine (and mango is indeed a fine fruit). So I decided to do a Mango Upside Down Cake and to make the recipe more fully “my own” I decided to add chopped toasted mac nuts to the batter.

Well, if you read Sippity Sup with any regularity then you know that I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth. So when I pull out a dessert it’s a special occasion and usually marks the end of a series. And true to form this cake does mean that the sun is setting sunset over the Pacific Oceanon my Hawaiian adventure. It’s time to say Aloha to the Kona Coast and Aloha to my own sweet home in L.A. (I know, I know… that Aloha thing can be confusing, you’d think they could come up with separate words for Hello and Good-Bye).

But it’s been a great series and I am glad I made the effort to record my culinary experience while I was here. This way I’ll always have a record of the great times and wonderful food I experienced. You can read more about that history in one of the first posts I did here. Notes From The Kona Coast: Traditional Hawaiian Food From Local to Loco Moco

Kend & Liz in HawaiiAnd just as I had hoped, I learned quite a bit about Hawaii through its food culture and its culinary diversity, which came about by the ethnic and cultural diversity of the people who have been settling here for centuries. I’ll admit some of Hawaii’s “local foods” can seem a bit unappetizing to the uninitiated. I mean if you would have told me two weeks ago I’d be eating Spam on several occasions I would have scoffed at you. Because the truth is I don’t really like Spam. But I am most certainly a “when in Kona” sort of eater. So “when in Kona” I took my Spam with plenty of rice, wrapped in nori. It’s known here as musubi. And if you just forget that you are eating Spam, you might find yourself actually liking it prepared in this manner. Still, I plan to remain a Spam-free zone until my next trip to these beautiful Islands.

That’s because I am much more of a seafood lover. I learned plenty of new taste treats I can bring back to the mainland. I covered several of them on this blog and I hope you managed to catch some of their goodness. Because it’s posts like Notes from the Kona Coast: Ogo Slaw, Notes From The Kona Coast: Grilled Opelu for Lava Fun and Notes From The Kona Coast: A Trio of Hawaiian Poke that will remind you that Hawaii’s position in the middle of the Sippity Sup at the Quenns Bathgreat blue sea has had the most profoundly delicious impact on its cuisine.

But the land here is unusually fertile. A great many things can be grown here. The mangos in today’s cake are a great example of the bounty of produce these islands produce. Yesterday’s taro from my post Notes From the Kona Coast: Coconut Baked Taro with Macadamia Nuts contains another great recipe using local flavors and local produce. The great products are easy to find when you are here because family run small farms are very common and there are Farmers Markets galore here like the one I went to in Notes From The Kona Coast: Market Matters Hilo Hawaii.

old coffee signBut when in comes to agriculture coffee is king, at least in Kona. I visited two local coffee farms Alii Pride Coffee Farm and Dard Roast Farm I posted all I learned here. Notes From The Kona Coast: Coffee As Good As It Gets.

And speaking of beverages. What’s a trip to paradise without that Tiki Bar Star, the Mai Tai? So let’s raise our glass as the sun sets over this series of posts. Because it’s quiet moments like these, spent with friends, surrounded by the beauty of nature & the bounty of God’s great earth that reminds you why living, loving (& dining) really are a great way to spend your life. Notes From The Kona Coast: The Mysterious Magical Mai Tai is ‘Out of This World’.


Mango Upside Down Cake with Macadamia Nuts serves 10 CLICK here for a printable recipe


Sippity Sup is a tiki godMango and macadamia nuts transform a traditional upside down cake into a tropical delight in this recipe adapted from David Lebovitz’ recipe for an “all-purpose” upside down cake.

  • 11 T butter (160g), salted or unsalted, divided
  • 3⁄4 c packed (170g) light brown sugar
  • 2 c mango, peeled and cut into 3/4‑inch cubes
  • 3⁄4 c (150g) sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1⁄2 c (210g) flour
  • 1 1⁄2 t baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
  • 1⁄4 t salt
  • 1⁄2 c (125ml) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 3⁄4 c (200g) toasted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

You have some latitude with the fruits that you use. Just make sure that whatever you use covers the bottom in a substantial layer, around double-thickness, since the fruit will cook down while baking and settle nicely into place. Berries, nuts and such are good nestled in the gaps between the slices or cubes of fruits.

Melt 3 tablespoons (45g) of butter in a cast iron skillet. Add the brown sugar and cook while stirring, until the sugar is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool.

Once cool, arrange the fruit in an even layer along the bottom of a 10-inch cake pan, or similarly sized cast iron skillet.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl beat 8 tablespoons (115g) of butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Stir in half of the flour mixture, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix: stir just until the flour is barely incorporated into the batter. Add the nuts and mix lightly to incorporate.

Spread the batter over the fruit, then bake for 45 minutes to one hour (depending on the pan, and the thickness of the batter.) The cake is ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center feels just set.

Remove from oven, let cool about 20 minutes, then place a cake plate on top, and wearing oven mitts, flip the cake out on to the plate, taking care, as there may be some hot caramel that might escape.

Serving: Upside Down Cake is best served warm, perhaps with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It can be made in advance, left in the pan, and rewarmed in the cake pan or skillet right before serving. It’s also very good rewarmed in a microwave, and served immediately.