pineapple upside-down cake.

I've eye-balled a few different recipes for pineapple upside-down cake since I started this blog, but I'm always discouraged by the lack of choices for pans. It seemed every recipe required a cast iron skillet, but then it didn't specify what size, and I only have a twelve inch whopper than nearly breaks my skinny wrist every time I pick it up (sorry Justin, I do love it, it's just really freaking heavy). While my heart wishes for a cake that is twelve inches wide, I doubt that's what the recipe calls for, and I couldn't find anything that required a pan I already had and used ingredients I thought might work. It's a dilemma that keeps me awake at night.

I recently received a review copy of In the Sweet Kitchen and I started leafing through it in search of something I could share with you. The book is three inches thick but only an inch and a half of it is actual recipes - the first half is a super-duper detailed explanation of every ingredient, fruit, flour, chocolate, flavoring, herb, etc. imaginable and I must confess - my quest for dessert was temporarily benched after I spent a good twenty minutes learning the difference between Mexican and Tahitian vanilla. Did you know the orchids that produce vanilla pods have to be hand pollinated? That's why they'll cost you your first born child for two of them. I'm going to have to make fifty babies to continue financing my vanilla habit.

I must admit, the recipe section of the book was a little disappointing. It seemed that the hefty introduction was written especially for beginning bakers that would have a lot of questions about ingredients but the recipes didn't strike me as something the average home-baker would want to make. Choices like Sauteed Orchard Fruit with Orange Muscat Sabayon and Polenta-Almond Cakes with Golden Raspberries and Creme Fraiche left me winded just trying to pronounce the whole title, sapping all my energy to make the actual dessert. I'm not one to shy away from a baking challenge, but I'm from the Land of Unadulterated Brownies and Banana Bread, and we don't speak Fancy 'round these parts.

I thought about taking the blueberry muffin recipe for a dance around the kitchen, but the author's insistence that I use wild blueberries was enough to shut that idea down - I lack a wild blueberry patch in my backyard. So here came this pineapple upside-down cake to the rescue. It was quite a few steps, especially when you slice and dice the pineapple from the ground up, but it gives you that ooooh moment when you flip it upside down and the golden, syrupy pineapples finally make an appearance from underneath the vanilla cake.

The taste wasn't quite what I'd hoped - it was fine in its own way, sticky and sweet and tropical all at once, but I grew up on the Duncan Hines version of this cake. My Dad would make it in a rectangular pan with crushed pineapple and a brown sugar topping, occasionally he'd throw in a few maraschino cherries that I always picked out because their rubbery texture freaked me out (I was a fickle child). The best part about the boxed kind was the cake itself - it was soft as cotton, scented like coconut and barely sweet against the sugary fruit. This cake made me miss that - it was too sophisticated, too grown up for the memory permanently ingrained in my mind about what pineapple upside-down cake should taste like.

My palate is turning into a trailer park. I need to work on that.

Caramelized Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley

1 large, sweet ripe pineapple
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 10 inch springform pan with cooking spray and then line with foil. Spray the foil and then line it with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit the pan and then spray the parchment. Sprinkle a dusting of sugar over that and I promise that's it for the pan - excessive spraying, right? We're dealing with a lot of sticky good here.

Cut up the pineapple into 1/2 inch chunks and set aside - here's a good tutorial on chopping up that knobbly tropic fruit.

For the topping:

In a large saucepan or cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until it just turns liquid and then add the granulated sugar. It will clump and be very granular and make you raise one eyebrow as to how this could ever turn into caramel, but stick with it. Stir the mixture slowly and it will begin to melt and turn into a caramel. The butter will separate out from the sugar and look like an oil slick over the brown caramel, and the recipe promised it would come back together but between you and me - it never really did. Continue cooking the caramel for about 5 minutes until it is a deep shade of brown then add the pineapple all at once. It will sputter and hiss - stand back - then continue to stir occasionally until the pineapple is caramelized and almost translucent, about 7 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, put the pineapple chunks into the prepared pan, leaving the syrup in the pan. (The recipe says to arrange them into concentric circles, but the idea of arranging 40 chunks of pineapple one by one made me cringe, so I just dumped them all in there.) Return the pan to the heat and cook another 5-7 minutes until it thickens just slightly and then pour the caramel sauce over the pineapples. Set aside while you make the batter.

For the cake:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium/large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, white sugar, brandy (if you're using it), and vanilla until just combined. Mix in the flour and lastly, the melted butter. Pour the batter over the pineapples without sloshing them around too much and place the pan onto a baking sheet (mine dripped out of the bottom a bit, the pan will provide both insulation and a spill-guard so you don't have to scrub the oven out).

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs stuck to it. (Note: The original recipe said to bake for 70-80 minutes, but thankfully I checked after 55 and it was nearly overdone. Another half an hour would've turned it black - do they actually test these recipes?) Allow it to rest in the pan about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a cake stand or plate. Release the sides, peel back the 300 layers of foil and parchment and allow to cool a bit before serving.

Cake will keep at room temperature, covered, for about 3 days.

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