Pineapple Upside Down Cake is one of those desserts that often looks better than it tastes. The pineapple topping can be too sweet and the cake portion can be too dense and heavy. As a pineapple fan, I always want to like it, but it often lets me down and makes me turn to other pineapple desserts instead. I decided that I would give Pineapple Upside Down Cake another try after growing my own pineapple and wanting to pay tribute to it in dessert form.
My own pineapple happened to be a miniature pineapple, which is cute and sweet, but not quite large enough to be turned into a decent pineapple upside down cake. You can start with a large, fresh pineapple or use canned pineapple rings for this cake, and both will give you good results. The pineapple rings are arranged on top of a layer of butter, brown sugar and salt that is packed into the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. This brown sugar turns into a layer of caramel that browns the pineapple rings beautifully as the cake bakes, ensuring that you have a beautifully cooked topping for your cake when you turn it out of the pan to serve it. Traditional pineapple upside down cakes place maraschino cherries into the center of the pineapple rings, but I prefer to cut up extra pieces of pineapple to fill any gaps on top of the cake, rather than using them.
The cake that accompanies the pineapple is a light, tender sponge cake. It is sturdy enough to hold up to the pineapple layer, but so airy that it keeps the dessert from seeming heavy, even with all that caramel. It has a very subtle hint of vanilla, butter and pineapple in it, but it isn’t too sweet and lets the fruit and caramel really shine.
This cake has a relatively long baking time because of all the extra juice from the pineapples. The top of the cake – which will be the bottom when serving – should turn a dark golden brown in the oven. The cake may not hold together if you take it out too early, so be sure to test your cake for doneness with a toothpick, or by watching for it to spring back when you press it with a fingertip. If you feel it is getting too dark for your tastes, loosely tent a piece of aluminum foil over the baking pan for the last 15 minutes of the baking time.
This cake is at its very best on the day it is made, when it is still just a touch warm from the oven. It is still delicious the next day if you have leftovers, and the juice from the pineapple will saturate the cake, making it sweeter and more moist. I like to serve it as-is, but a spoonful of whipped cream or even vanilla ice cream can be a very nice accompaniment to a slice of this cake.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 large pineapple rings
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Prepare the topping: In a small bowl, stir together melted butter, brown sugar and salt. Pour into prepared pan and press into an even layer.
Arrange pineapple rings on top of the sugar, placing 6 rings around the edge of the pan and 1 ring in the center. Cut up the remaining ring into smaller pieces and use it to fill in any gaps in the pineapples. Set aside.
Prepare the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar and beat at high speed until mixture has tripled in volume. At low speed, whisk in flour mixture until completely combined.
In a small saucepan, combine butter, pineapple juice and milk. Cook over medium heat just until butter has melted. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, stream butter mixture in to the rest of the cake batter. When batter has come together completely, pour into prepared pan on top of the pineapple layer.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto a large serving dish or cake plate.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.