We haven’t had a pineapple upside-down cake in years — well, maybe even decades — something we thought should be rectified with the recent arrival of fresh, ripe pineapple. You didn’t think we’d make pineapple upside-down cake with pineapple from a can, did you? The last time we ate some pineapple from a can, we couldn’t believe how bland and flavorless it was. No way is that going into our cake. And it shouldn’t go into yours, either.
Whenever we’re thinking of something we’ve not made before and for which we don’t have a recipe, we turn to The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker; it flat has recipes for almost everything. Once again, Joy saved us, although it did call for that canned “pineapple” we discussed earlier. We ignored that part.
We will say that when we first read this recipe, we were a bit daunted. It seemed difficult, with lots of bowls for this and that. Sifting here and there. Folding, folding, folding of ingredients. But, after a careful reading, we thought, “Hey, we can scratch this!” And you can, too. Trust us, and just follow along step by step. Warning: there is a lot of folding of ingredients.
Everything is better when you use fresh fruit, so, while pineapples are coming in fresh, go grab one for making this cake. It’s not that difficult to peel, slice and core a pineapple; just make sure you have a sharp knife. Unsalted butter is the only way to go for baking. It allows you, the chef, to choose the salt level you want, not the level of salt that someone else wants. You’ll note that we list a few things by weight. These, if you have a scale, will make you life easier: pour flour right into the sifter set over a bowl, measure brown sugar without packing, etc. The pinch of cream of tartar is to help stabilize the egg whites while whipping.
Lastly, remember to separate your eggs while cold, then let the whites and yolks come to room temperature (about 30 minutes should do it). Ideally, when you separate them, place the yolks in a small bowl (big enough so you can still whisk them later) and the whites into the (scrupulously clean) bowl of a stand mixer.
Procedure in detail:
Peel, slice, and core. Get out a large, sharp, chef’s knife and slice the top off the pineapple. Stand the pineapple on end and cut off the skin. Now go around the outside and trim out the eyes. Finally, slice off the bottom. You’ve peeled a pineapple. Yay! Now cut it into slices about 1/3 of an inch thick, cut each slice into quarters, and trim away the core. Done. Not too bad, right? Taste. Very good, right?
Layer. Place the pineapple pieces in the bottom of a heavy oven-proof skillet (cast iron is ideal), fitting them in as tightly as you can. You may not use them all, or you may be able to sneak in a few more pieces as they cook and shrink. Otherwise, just munch on the remaining pieces and say you’re taste-testing to determine the exact amount of brown sugar needed.
Add butter and brown sugar. Place the butter on top of the pineapples pieces, followed by the brown sugar. If you have a very sweet pineapple, feel free to reduce the amount of brown sugar. Not so sweet, increase the amount of brown sugar. See, all that tasting paid off!
Cook pineapple. Set the skillet over medium-low heat until the butter melts, the sugar is mostly dissolved and the pineapple is releasing its juices. Increase heat to medium and let simmer until the sauce thickens to the consistency of a light syrup (like maple syrup). If you have a thermometer, the temperature of the syrup will be around 118°F. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Move a rack to the center of the oven.
Place raspberries. If using, place raspberries in the gaps between the pineapple pieces. You’ll probably need just about a dry pint (6 oz). If you wish, you can use other types of fruit. We would avoid using maraschino cherries as they don’t taste like anything but syrup. Set aside.
Sift flour. Yes, break out the sifter from the back of the cupboard. Place the sifter in a medium bowl and put the cake flour into the sifter, followed by the baking powder. Then sift away. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks. In a small bowl, use a whisk and beat the egg yolks with the vanilla and melted butter until uniform in color. A minute of whisking will be more than enough. Set aside the yolk mixture.
Measure sugar. If you haven’t done so already, measure out that cup of granulated sugar. Just leave it in a measuring cup until you need it.
Whip egg whites. Place the egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Start the mixer on low, and, as the egg whites become frothy, increase the speed of the mixer, working up to full power. Whip until the whites are stiff, but still moist-looking. To check, just stop the mixer and lift up the whisk to see if the egg white peaks stay peaked.
Fold in sugar. Fold, fold, fold. And fold some more. This seems like overkill, but it’s not. What you need to do is to add that cup of sugar into the whites without the egg whites collapsing. The way to do that is to fold in the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Yes, one tablespoon of sugar sprinkled on top, then folded in. Then another tablespoon of sugar, more folding. The folding stage goes pretty quickly, so this really is easier than it sounds. All that folding allows the sugar to dissolve into the egg whites and not collapse them. By the time you get to the end, your egg whites will have the consistency of a light marshmallow fluff.
Fold in egg yolks. Compared to the last step, this is easy and fast. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the egg whites and fold it in until uniform in color. Remember to scrape the bottom of the bowl, as unmixed ingredients tend to lurk there.
Fold in flour. Yes, more folding. Fold in the flour mixture in four equal amounts. While folding, watch for those pockets of flour that seem to hide in the batter. Once you’ve folded in the flour, the batter is ready.
Pour over pineapple. Pour the batter over the pineapple and sauce in the skillet, making sure to cover everything.
Bake. Slide the cake into the oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is light brown, springs back when you touch it, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Invert. Immediately upon removing the cake from the oven, place a large serving plate over the top, and, in one motion (using hot pads, of course), lift up the cake and platter and flip over. Let it rest upside down for 5 minutes so the caramel sauce seeps into the cake before removing the skillet.
Cool. Let cake cool completely before slicing.