Pineapple upside-down cake

Just the thought of a pineapple-anything brings up faint, early morning memories of my family’s pineapple patch in Assam and of the tins and tins of luscious, golden home-canned pineapple that lined our pantry shelves in Calcutta at the end of pineapple season.  My mother often made pineapple trifle — a simple but delicious concoction of layers of chocolate bourbon biscuit dipped in pineapple juice alternating with whipped heavy cream that was studded with bits of fresh pineapple.  My grandmother’s single concession to Western style dessert was bite sized swiss rolls.  These were soft pinwheels of yellow sponge cake layered with strawberry jam that were topped with a cloud of whipped cream with bits of fresh pineapple and garnished with a sprinkle of chopped green pistachios.  I asked for pineapple upside-down cake to be served at my wedding in Jamaica.  In the excitement of the evening, I forgot to taste it.

That missed pineapple cake put me on a perpetual hunt for a good pineapple upside down cake recipe.  I watched Giada using boxed white cake mix and cooked fresh pineapple puree on television.  David Lebovitz’s upside-down cake recipe was primarily for apricots and nectarines, but I decided to do pineapples instead.  A few attempts with a whole pineapple, then with a half pineapple, one with sliced pineapple and the next with diced pineapple, led to this recipe.   Slicing created big heavy chunks of pineapple that didn’t cook down well, and also made the cake difficult to cut.  So I diced the pineapple instead, and used less, a half pineapple instead of a whole one.  I think Giada’s puree would have worked well too.

For this recipe, I begin by shopping for a ripe Costa Rican pineapple, which looks beautiful and ornamental in my shopping basket and while sitting on the kitchen counter.  The smell of ripe pineapple fills my nostrils as I slice off the top and bottom and firmly run my knife down the sides to remove the rough outer peel.  I remove as many brown “eyes” as I can while peeling.  The pineapple gets quartered, lengthwise, and I remove the hard spine down its middle.  Next, chopping and dicing.  All the while, my hands grow stickier with pineapple juice.  I cannot help but pop pieces of pineapple into my mouth as I work.  The yellow pineapple is sweet and tangy, and intense with tropical flavor. It has a pleasing bite, not too much fiber.  Bits of pineapple come apart in my mouth as I chew.

David’s recipe calls for a 10-inch cast iron skillet, and this is one of the many pleasures of this cake.  The black cast iron pan is heavy and rustic, and all the cooking gets done in this one pan.  At first, I melt butter and brown sugar, until the sugar becomes smooth and bubbly.  The mixture smells wonderful as it cooks, giving off aromas of butterscotch and caramel.  I set the pan aside to cool while I start on my cake batter.  It is very simple – cream soft butter and sugar, add the eggs one by one and then the vanilla.  Next, the dry ingredient mixture – flour, salt and baking powder – alternated with milk.  Voila!  the cake is ready to assemble.  The pineapples go evenly on top of the butterscotch and then the fluffy golden batter is poured in.  Into the oven, and then the smell.  oh the smell.  Of cooking pineapple, caramel and vanilla.  When the cake emerges, it oozes with caramel and pineapple.

This cake tastes particularly delicious when eaten warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Pineapple upside down cake

Inspired by David Lebovitz

Serves 10

1/ 2 a ripe pineapple, diced, about 3 cups

For the caramel:

3 tbsp of unsalted butter

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For the cake:

Dry ingredients, whisk together :

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder, aluminum free

1/4 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

8 tbsp butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1. Caramel: Heat the oven to 350F.  In a 10-inch cast iron pan, melt the butter, and add the sugar.  Cook until the sugar melts and begins to bubble.  Remove from flame and keep aside.  Allow to cool, then spread the chopped pineapple evenly over the caramel.

2.  Cake: Meanwhile, with an electric mixer on the lowest setting, begin beating the sugar and butter, until fluffy, about two minutes.  Add the eggs, one by one, until each is fully incorporated into the batter.  Add the vanilla.  Now, slowly and gently fold in the dry ingredient mixture in two parts, alternating with the milk.  Pour this batter over the fruit and smooth out.

3.  Baking: Bake for about 30-45 minutes, until a tester or knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  The cake will have pulled away from the sides and will look firm in the  center.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes or so, and the flip over to serve.

Note: to serve warm, can later reheat in the pan or for a brief time in the microwave.

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