My eyes are stinging a bit as I write this, a smoky aftereffect from my latest adventure in baking.
It all started so innocently. A week or so ago, my wife spotted an unbelievable deal on pineapples at the local grocery, 99 cents each. Being such a good price, she picked up two of them.
Step one – what to do with pineapple:
Yes, we both like pineapple, but two of them? There are no kids around, just the two of us, and while pineapple is tasty polishing off a whole one each seems a bit excessive, or least tiresome. We procrastinated on the question for a week, but those scaly apples morphed from green to a nice ripe yellowish cast – it was time to decide. For lack of any better ideas, we decided to use some of it for a pineapple upsidedown cake.
Step two – field stripping a pineapple:
For most folks, baking with pineapple is kind of like getting milk from a cow; you just go to the store and buy it, already prepared and packaged; someone else has already done the dirty work. But if you buy a fresh pineapple, you soon discover that it’s not anywhere near ready for cakes. It’s got spikes and a scaly, armor like skin designed to put off the casual scavenger – you have to strip it down yourself.
My wife, being from a tropical island in the Philippines, brought back the tribal lore that her mother had taught her for removing the nasty bits. She then passed on that lore to me. Somehow, possibly having something to do with the fact it’s a little labor intensive, I ended up becoming the official stripper of pineapples in the family, and it had nothing to do with food porn. In this method, once you’ve hacked off the top and bottom, in the interests of retaining as much pineapple as possible, you only slice off thin strips of the skin. This leaves deep set eyes (I bet you didn’t know pineapples were such dark, intense characters did you?), which are little pockets of inedible armor that need to be trimmed away via a series of V cuts.
Once that’s done you can slice them in quarters lengthwise, and cut away the fibrous core. At last, it’s time to taste.
Excuse me a sec, after all that I think I’ll go munch a couple chunks. Mmmm, sweet!
Step three – constructing the cake:
The distinguishing characteristic of a pineapple upsidedown cake, after it’s done and you’ve turned it upside down, is the layer of pineapple embedded in a sweet, caramelized sauce on the top. This sauce is made from butter and brown sugar – quite a bit of it. Since we are flipping this concoction, the sauce and pineapple are placed on the bottom of the pan. The cake batter is then created and poured on top prior to baking. I shall not trouble you with the details, just think of some tasty ingredients, with a butter forward flavor.
I might point out at this stage I used something called a springform pan. The idea was to help maintain the nicely laid out pineapple when it came time to flip the cake and separate it from the pan bottom, and a bit of parchment paper and a springform pan seemed like it’d do the trick.
Step four – burning down the house:
Astute bakers already know where this is going, they’ve probably done it themselves. For the less experienced, a word about springform pans.
In a normal cake pan, the bottom and walls of the pan are a single sealed construction. In a springform pan, the wall of the pan is a separate construction and can expand/contract via a clamp, and has a slot in the bottom to contain the pan bottom. This leaves open the possibility of leakage. In the past I had used an older pan that rarely leaked; this was a new pan, and I soon discovered it was not as tight.
When daylight savings time shifts to standard time, the fire department recommends you check the batteries for your smoke alarm. I failed to do this. However, the springform pan and the oven were in cahoots with the smoke alarm; they decided it was time for a test. The pan leaked a buttery, sugary mess into the oven, and the oven sent up smoke signals for the smoke alarm to respond to, if the battery was still alive.
The smoke alarm was gratified to be able to do its thing, the shrill beeping awakening me from the revery of watching “A Christmas Carol” yet again. A little investigation revealed the cause, and a tardy drip pan soon made an appearance in the oven. But the worst of the dripping had already occurred, so aggressive ventilation was the final ingredient for the bake.
The house didn’t burn down, it just smelled that way for a bit. The cake turned out beautifully, and tasted even better than it looked. My itchy eyes are more from running the self-clean cycle on the oven than last night’s debacle. Or maybe I’m just allergic to smoky ovens.
But we still have about one and a half pineapples left. Any ideas?