Pecan upside down cake is an easy holiday dessert that's like a cross between pecan pie and sticky buns. This buttery vanilla cake has a caramel-like pecan pie filling that soaks into the cake, making it sweet, rich, and decadent.
It can be made in a standard round or square pan rather than a bundt pan for a more balanced cake-to-topping ratio. Each bite of this pecan pie cake is amazing on its own, but you can take it to another level by topping it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!
If you are not a big pecan pie fan, or don't want to mess with making pastry crust, this caramel pecan upside down cake is a great homemade alternative for the holidays.
If you love upside-down cakes, try this Upside-Down Almond Fig Cake, which is another perfect single layer fall cake.
For more pecan related bakes, try:
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Simple - This pecan upside down cake gives you all the amazing flavors of pecan pie without the hassle of making pastry dough. Upside down cakes may seem difficult, but they are surprisingly easy to make!
Holiday flavors - Is there anything more quintessentially holiday than pecan pie? The pecans in this upside down cake mix with butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup to create that classic pie filling that soaks into the buttery vanilla cake creating a new, delicious take on this classic.
Eye catching - Upside down cakes are so beautiful, and this pecan version is no exception. It's always a little nerve wracking because you can't see the final product until after it bakes, but that moment when you flip it out of the pan is so satisfying! The pecan pieces get glazed in the sugar syrup and look like caramely, nutty jewels on top.
- Pecans. Pecan halves can be used (then chopped into pieces), or you can use pecan pieces. Cut any pieces that are too large.
- Sugars. The pecan layer uses brown sugar to create a classic caramelized flavor, and the cake uses granulated sugar.
- Corn syrup. Necessary to help the caramel pecan topping set up during bake time.
- Milk. Whole milk at room temperature gets mixed into the cake batter to create a delicate crumb.
- Baking powder. This is the only leavening agent used in the cake recipe, and cannot be substituted with baking soda.
- Vanilla. This flavor comes through in the vanilla cake, so be sure to use a good quality pure vanilla extract or even better, vanilla bean paste.
See recipe card for full ingredients list and quantities.
Substitutions and Variations
- Substitute walnuts in place of the pecans.
- Dark brown or light brown sugar can be used in this recipe.
- Make the cake in a 9x9 inch square pan for a different look (or if that's the type of pan you have!).
How to Make This Recipe
One: Melt the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup, then stir in the vanilla, salt and pecans and mix.
Two: Add the pecan syrup to a greased cake pan and gently spread it out evenly.
Three: Cream together the butter and sugars until combined.
Four: Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy.
Five: Alternate adding the milk and flour. It will look slightly curdled until the last of the flour goes in.
Six: Mix until just combined, then scrape down the sides and mix in an extra flour by hand.
Seven: Gently add spoonfuls of the cake batter on top of the pecans in an even layer.
Eight: Use an offset spatula or rubber spatula to gently spread the cake batter evenly over top, getting the whole way to the edges.
Hot tip! Be very careful adding the cake batter so you don't disturb the pecan layer. Add the batter to both the edges and middle, then spread it evenly to the edges.
Nine: Bake the cake until a cake tester comes out clean.
Ten: Immediately flip the cake (use pot holders or a tea towel) onto a platter or cake stand. Tap the top all over, then gently pull straight up.
Hot tip! If any pieces of pecans remain stuck to the pan, pull them off and place them back onto the cake in areas where it looks like pecans are missing.
- Generously grease the pan to make sure the topping comes out of the pan clean when you flip it out.
- Use room temperature ingredients for the cake so they easily incorporate.
- Measure the flour accurately using a kitchen scale and grams for the best result.
- Don't over mix the batter to ensure a fluffy cake.
- Run an offset spatula or a butter knife around the edges of the pan before flipping to help loosen any stuck on pieces.
- Flip the cake immediately after it comes out of the oven, allow it to sit upside down, tap the bottom of the pan, then lift straight up.
- Remove any stuck on pieces of pecan/syrup and add then back onto the cake.
Realistically, any type of cake pan (round, square, rectangular) will work as long as the bottom is well greased and flipped right away so it has no chance of sticking. A cast iron pan is also ideal for upside down cakes.
This cake should be flipped immediately to avoid sticking, but some recipes wait 5-10 minutes. If you wait too long, the caramel will set and stick in the pan, making your topping separate from the cake.
Add a platter or plate centered on the top opening of the cake pan. Use oven mitts or a tea towel, hold one hand on the bottom of the cake pan and one hand on the bottom of the platter.
Quickly (with confidence!) turn your hands and place the platter down on the counter. Tap the bottom of the cake pan all over to remove any pieces that may have gotten stuck, then lift the cake pan straight up.
Store the pecan pie upside down cake lightly covered with foil at room temperature for 2-3 days. This cake should not be frozen.
Gently reheat slices in the microwave, if desired.
More Snack Cake Recipes You'll Love
Pecan Upside Down Cake
- 8" cake pan
- Stand mixer with paddle attachment, or handheld mixer
- Medium saucepan
- Rubber spatula
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup light brown sugar packed
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ¼ cups pecans roughly chopped (or use pecan pieces)
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ cup unsalted butter room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup whole milk room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 350F and grease an 8” round cake pan generously with nonstick spray or butter.
- Add the butter to a saucepan over medium heat and stir until melted.6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Add the brown sugar and corn syrup and stir until the brown sugar has dissolved.⅓ cup light brown sugar, 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt, and pecans until the pecans are completely coated.1 teaspoon vanilla, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 1 ¼ cups pecans
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and gently spread to the edges. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
- Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons baking powder
- In a bowl (using a stand mixer or hand mixer) cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.¼ cup unsalted butter, ¾ cup granulated sugar
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides.1 large egg, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- While mixing on low speed, alternate adding the flour and milk, ending with the flour. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the excess flour around the edges so you don’t over mix.⅔ cup whole milk
- Spoon the batter into the pan (dollop some around the sides, then the middle) and gently spread evenly across the pan, working the batter the whole way to the edges
- Note: don’t push or spread with too much pressure. Disturbing the pecan layer on the bottom will affect the flip at the end.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs but no wet batter.
- Place a plate or serving platter on top of the cake, then use oven mitts or a tea towel (holding the pan and the platter like a sandwich) and flip the cake immediately. Leave the pan on top for 1 minute and gently tap the pan all over.
- Remove the pan by lifting it straight up, and scoop out any leftover pieces of nuts in the pan back and place them back onto the cake.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.