In Search of a Ripe Pineapple

May 20, 2007

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I know it’s been awhile David, but when I was bumped from my Honolulu flight by a woman in a wheelchair with a clubfoot it started a chain of ugly events.

I made the mistake of baking a cake for Jennifer the first time we celebrated her birthday 13 years ago. I’m just not a pastry guy, but I was eager to impress my young girlfriend. I banked on double layered dark chocolate cake separated by a layer of raspberry puree, topped with fresh raspberries and wrapped in a sheet of 85% pure chocolate. It did the trick, but every year since I’ve received the guilt sticky words, “Remember that time you made me a birthday cake?”

This year, I didn’t hear those words. Instead, Jennifer requested that I bake a pineapple upside down cake using a pineapple that was ripened on the plant. I sprang into action, booked a flight to Honolulu and jumped in a taxi to LaGuardia.

I estimated that I’d arrive home by breakfast the following morning, but that wasn’t the case. With the Honolulu flight a bust and no maps of the Philipines, I rang Jennifer and said, “Baby, pack a bag and meet me at JFK. We’re going to Pedro A Santos.”

We grabbed a rental car at the airport and ran out of gas between Felipe Carrillo Puerto and our destination. The rig that we hitched a ride on was driven by a portly Argentinian that enjoyed touching himself on the sweaty parts, so we decided to ride in the back with the hogs. When we arrived in the small farming town of Pedro A Santos, no one could get past the second word of our broken Spanish before screeching HIJO! and running in the other direction.

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By this time, we had missed our return flight and Jennifer’s birthday was approaching fast. One kind woman who had lost her sense of smell in a machete accident was nice enough to hose us down. I dried off and paid a sun stained farmer in a huge cowboy hat a small bundle of pesos to stroll through his spider infested pineapple groves. I picked 5 of the ripest pineapples from the prickly plants, stuffed them into my canvas sack and was bitten, as well as berated in English and Spanish by one of the nastiest looking spiders I had ever seen in my entire life. “Puto! Cabron! You dumb fucking gringo!” the spider yelled at me as I smashed him into spider paste.

It was tough to bake with a Fred Flinstone hand, but the cake was magical. Jennifer and I hung out at Sin Duda nursing our wounds for the next several weeks until we were free of the smell of swine and my hand no longer resembled a clubfoot.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
(adapted from a pastry chef’s recipe at Gourmet magazine)

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 fresh pineapple, halved lengthwise, cored, and peeled
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup muscavado sugar (my Mexican pantry stock was limited, so I used a raw, local sugar
2/3 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk

Preheat your Viking to 350°F. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Cut pineapple crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick wedges.

Butter a 9-inch round cake pan using 1/2 stick butter. That’s a lot of butter, but ah that’s gonna taste good. Sprinkle all of muscovado sugar evenly over bottom and arrange pineapple over it, starting in center of pan and overlapping slices slightly.

Beat the remaining stick of butter with granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. I used the old wooden spoon that had a burnt handle because the electric was out that day, but you can use a mixer on medium. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture alternately with milk in batches, beginning and ending with flour and mixing just until batter is smooth.

Spread batter evenly over pineapple and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Put the pan on a rack and cool your jets for 20 minutes then invert the cake onto a plate. Cool to room temperature. Put your thumb over the top of a bottle of aged rum and shower the top of the cake with your finest spirit. Don’t soak it. I would suggest Havana Club Reserva, Barbancourt Añejo or the like.

You might as well bake two.

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