Is anything else as gloriously retro as a pineapple upside-down cake? The very name invokes visions of Betty Draper in an A-line dress, covered by a tiny, impractical apron, proudly brandishing a golden-brown, can-born concoction that she didn’t actually bake herself. (Justice for Carla!)
Even the origins of this cake are kitschy: apparently, it entered the American lexicon only after some genius at Dole figured out a mechanical way to slice the tropical fruit into perfect, even rings. Replace the humble apples of a French tarte tartin with the processed, sugar-soaked slices sold by a capitalist supercorporation, and boom: pineapple upside-down cake. Hell, it may be even more American than apple pie.
It’s also a diabetic coma waiting to happen, at least when you follow Nonnie’s recipe. There is a lot of sugar in this guy—within the cake itself, yes, but more importantly covering its top and sides in a liquified, brown, caramel-y goo. An appetizing one, but a goo nonetheless. Some cakes are made for the à la mode treatment; others seem complete only when served with a dollop of whipped cream. Here, that is not—I repeat, not—the case. Do yourself a favor and serve it naked, if you too decide to take the plunge; your dentist will thank you.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
1/4 cup butter or margarine [you’re using butter; who are we kidding?]
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 can (8-10 slices) pineapple [in juice, not syrup], drained [but not into the sink—you’ll need some of that juice for the cake itself]
3/4 cups liquid (use half pineapple juice and half milk)
1.5 cups cake flour; use 3 tablespoons less if using regular flour [which I did]
1 cup sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place 1/4 cup butter or margarine in 9″ round cake pan and melt in 350 oven. Remove from oven and mix brown sugar into pan, spreading evenly over entire bottom of pan. [This will be difficult to do with a wooden spoon; after the pan and butter had cooled, I ended up just pressing in the sugar with my fingers.] Place one slice pineapple in center of pan. Cut remaining slices in half and arrange perpendicularly around center slice, all around pan. [Which I did, but then I ran out of room, and I didn’t want to just waste/eat the remaining pineapple—so I ended up cutting the remaining rings and fitting them into open spots on the pan, like a pineapple jigsaw puzzle. Maybe it’s a little messier, but when has more pineapple ever been a bad thing?]
Measure all other ingredients into large mixing bowl. Blend 1/2 minute on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed, scraping occasionally. [It really will help to use some kind of hand mixer here, to make sure your batter is smooth as possible.]
Pour into pan, over pineapple slices. Bake in pre-heated 350 minutes for 35-35 minutes, or until cake tests done. Remove from oven and place on cake rack. Place plate over cake pan and invert. Leave pan over cake for a few minutes and then remove. [Warning: There may be more sugar ooze than you had anticipated.]
The verdict: Ta-daaaa! I have to admit, there’s something exceedingly satisfying about making this cake; baking it really does make you feel like a ’50s housewife, in the best way possible. Nonnie’s recipe almost certainly has too much butter and sugar; the topping oozes down the sides of the cake, pooling onto your display plate and covering everything in the vicinity with a sticky sucrose goo. I tried to clean up the plate above before shooting a photo of it, but even there, the sugar ended up getting the better of me.
That said? Despite the ridiculous amounts of sugar, if you cut and eat a reasonable (read: skinny) slice of this cake, you’ll realize that it’s really not too overpoweringly sweet. (Yeah, that’s right: I just suggested you eat it in such small portions.) You can have it after ribs and not feel too gluttonous; you can have some cold from the fridge in the morning without feeling too too guilty for eating cake for breakfast, or so I’m told. Just don’t do both of those things in a row… after also licking your beater clean and absent-mindedly swiping up the leaked cake caramel from your counter with your finger. That, perhaps, would be too much. I hear.