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Mary Cech is a truly talented pastry chef and key instructor at the CIA’s Greystone campus in California. Her baking talent is unsurpassed. She’s taken that talent, and her Zen to translate sweet to savory, to create the recipes in Savory Baking, a book devoted to all savory and no sweets.

There may not be much sugar here, but here is no loss of grandness. Sometimes, sugar can be put aside. Sometimes great dessert ideas can really be translated into a savory main dish. To achieve that translation, you need abundant talent, Mary Cech style talent.

Take the standard upside-down shortcake. Replace the apples or peaches, that you love so well, with something with equally abundant flavor. Say you keep a little sweetness in the shortcake itself via orange juice. But the topping now is onion cooked until it is deep, deep purple. Caramelization is such a wonderful thing. Here, a little fennel seed is added just to, not confuse, but surely give some appealing deception to your palate.

The result is lovely. This is a dramatic side dish that can pair with any protein. Suzen roasted a butterflied chicken with tomatillos. The zing of the roasted tomatillos sang with the onion on the shortcake. Just two courses, but an astonishingly complete meal.

Mary’s book is now available on Kindle. You can download, browse and savor.


Onion, Fennel, and Orange Upside-Down Shortcake

Yield: serves 6 to 8


Onion Filling:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, thinly slice
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and crush
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and roughly chopped


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk


TO PREPARE THE ONION FILLING, put the onions, sherry, brown sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper in a large sauté or wide-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cover and cover for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking.

Stir in the water. Add the roasted red peppers to the onions. Cover, reduce the heat medium, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cut a piece of aluminum foil to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Place it in the bottom of the pan and generously oil or spray the foil and the sides of the pan. Spread the onions evenly in the pan, reserving some to spoon over the finished cake.

TO PREPARE THE SHORTCAKE, preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Add the butter and pulse for 10 seconds or until the butter is pea-size. Add the milk and pulse until the mixture starts to form into a dough. Carefully spread the dough over the onions, leaving no gaps and make sure the edges of the pan are covered with dough. Put the pan in the oven and bake just until the top of the cake feels firm in the center when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes (the top will not look brown). Transfer to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes.

RUN A SHARP KNIFE around the inside of the pan. Place and hold a large serving plate over the top of the pan and invert the cake pan and foil. Spoon the reserved onions over the cake. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Source: Savory Baking by Mary Cech

Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/7.1 for 1/15th second at ISO-3200