Baking for Bookworms: Pineapple Upside Down Cake from Dollface by Renee Rosen

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Pineapple upside down cake tends to be a standout dessert no matter where you encounter it, but in Renee Rosen’s book Dollface, it’s a standout dish for reasons beyond its distinct and colorful appearance. Vera, the main character, leaves her childhood behind to enter the dangerous world of the 1920s flapper. It’s only a matter of time before she finds herself on a mobster’s arm (or two) and though she ends up married, there’s little that’s “settled” about it. The pineapple upside down cake is one of her forays into domesticity, and the cake’s demise just moments after this quote takes place, speaks to how perilous her world truly is. If food is one of the ways we create a home, than it can also be a sign of the security we lack:

“For my first stab at home entertaining, I turned to a recipe for upside-down pineapple cake in Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book. I’d made a practice cake the day before that had fallen as soon as I’d removed it from the oven, so I’d started over, measuring the flour and baking soda from my newly purchased canisters. I prepared the shortening and with my new hand beater blended the ingredients into a fluffy, frothy batter. After it came out of the oven, I was so stinking proud of myself. The cake on my counter looked not too different from Mrs. Wilson’s photographs. I set it in the center of my buffet, carefully covering the top with a glass cake dome.”             181

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Pineapple Upside Down cake is one of those lovely, simple cakes that can be made in one bowl, that don’t have to be frosted, and stay marvelously moist. In short, it’s one of my favorites.

recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can pineapple rings (you can use fresh pineapple of course, but I like the perfect roundness of the canned, not to mention it’s cheaper and easier)
  • 6-12 whiskey soaked maraschino cherries (the soaking part is optional. I found these in my liquor store and they were amazing. You could easily make them yourself–keep the juice for cocktails and soak for at least a couple hours, or you can use regular cherries. I like these cherries and I don’t normally like the regular maraschinos, but if you’re really against the little things, you can use whole pecans too)
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • grated rind of one lime, plus 1 tablespoon juice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Melt butter and pour in (or melt it in) either a cast iron skillet, a pie pan, or a deep cake pan. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and press in the pineapple rings. I typically start on the edges and work my way around before putting the ring in the middle. Put the cherries in the middle of the rings and between the rings as you like (I cut mine in half and stick them in so the cut side faces up).

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Make the batter by first combining all the dry ingredients. Add in milk and vegetable oil and beat for one minute. Add vanilla, egg, and lime and beat until just combined.

Pour batter evenly over the fruit.

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I love the way the pineapples make little crenellations like on a castle tower or rampart.

Bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and springy to the touch. Cool in the pan for five minutes before flipping onto a cake plate or platter.

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This would have looked so pretty on my glass cake plate, but I have no clue what might have happened to it… Oh well.

I love that these cakes are so distinct–these and the french macarons are some of my favorites to look at. What’s your favorite dessert to gaze at (even if it’s not your favorite dessert to eat)?

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