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Experimenting adds new flavor to pineapple upside down cake
On Baking
By Annie Overboe | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 12/16/2009 12:00 AM

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Not often, but occasionally, a dessert becomes famous solely for its unique look or innovative topping. The base recipe could be lackluster and boring as long as the adornments grab our attention and the dessert meets our taste expectations.

With all the hoopla during the holiday season, a dessert this audacious seems just right for our festive sweet tables. One recipe that fits that description: pineapple upside down cake.

Pineapple upside down cake has always appealed to my imagination's taste buds. I envision tropical pineapple basking in a light caramel glaze glistening atop a moist butter cake. I love the unique taste and texture of pineapple and know in my baker's heart this fruit holds great dessert potential.

Sadly, most pineapple upside down cakes I've sampled over the years have brought my taste buds crashing down to reality. Ultra sweet goop smothers the delicate, yet distinct flavor of pineapple.

It's time to see this dessert with a fresh perspective.

Since the cake's reputation lies with that signature topping, crafting a new pineapple upside down cake for the holidays means tackling the sticky situation with the fruit. The first item on my to-do list: tossing out our favored pineapple rings along with maraschino cherry centers.

Thick pineapple rings atop a cake does not equate to great fruit flavor, and seldom do diners get a fair share of fruit. Crushed pineapple, on the other hand, would offer everyone a taste of pineapple goodness and dried cranberries could provide stunning visual contrast.

After sampling my first test cake I faced abandoning this new recipe. The crushed fruit caused the cake to be top-heavy and the pineapple baked into a shockingly sweet glaze. A good idea in theory that bombed in the oven.

Fixating solely on the fruit in this classic recipe caused me to overlook the other powerful ingredient in pineapple upside down cakes: sugar. Back to the kitchen drawing board.

While I used crushed pineapple in its own juice, the mashed texture held tightly onto the juice. This added natural sugar to the topping. Keeping with my goal to create a uniform layer of pineapple, I tested pineapple tidbits, not chunks, in natural juice. In addition, I reduced the brown sugar to 1/2 cup. Toasted walnuts provided a texture contrast to the soft pineapple.

In these budget-conscious times, why toss out the pineapple juice. I replaced traditional buttermilk in the cake batter with juice and reduced the amount of sugar. These changes tenderize the crumb and enhance the pineapple flavor. For a touch of holiday panache, dried cranberries bake alongside pineapple in the caramel topping.

Finally, a pineapple upside down cake worthy of my expectations. A marvel of simple elegance that showcases the holiday season.

• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.