Monthly Archives: August 2010

Pineapple Inside-Out Cake

I must have been feeling nostalgic on Saturday. As a teenager, I made a lot of pineapple upside-down cakes. So when I needed something to bring to a potluck, that’s what I decided to bake.

Unable to find the recipe from my teen years, I adapted the one in Greg Patent’s “Baking in America.” Patent uses fresh pineapple instead of canned and macadamia nuts instead of maraschino cherries. I followed his advice on the pineapple, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The fruit winds up doused in brown-sugar butter and baked for 40 minutes, for God’s sake. Still, using a fresh pineapple means one can make the slices thicker than the canned kind, which I think makes the cake even heartier and homier than usual. I wanted to substitute maraschinos back into the recipe, but my husband couldn’t find them at the store, so I used toasted coconut instead.

So far, so good. But here’s where I went wrong with this super-moist recipe: I put the batter in a nonstick cake pan instead of a cast-iron skillet (or just a good old, non-nonstick cake pan). In my haste to pull the cake out of the oven (we were running late for the party), I tipped the pan — you guessed it — upside down, and the whole thing slid onto my oven door.

My husband, who saved the day with a spatula and a lot of patience, dubbed the dish Pineapple Smash, but I like to call it Pineapple Inside-Out Cake. The cake looked like hell, but it tasted moist and buttery and sugary, the way pineapple upside-down cake should.

I don’t have a picture. Sorry. And I also don’t have a good analogy to writing, though I invite my readers to provide one.

Pineapple Inside-Out Cake

Adapted from “Baking in America,” by Greg Patent

1 fresh pineapple, sliced into 8 pieces, or 1-16 oz can

Topping

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup toasted coconut

Cake

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk or 3/4 cup reserved pineapple liquid, or a combination

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a 9- or 10-inch cake pan (preferably not nonstick) over stove. If you like, add up to a tablespoon reserved pineapple juice. Add brown sugar and cook, stirring, until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat. Arrange 7-8 pineapple rings in syrup; cut rings if necessary to fit them in. Sprinkle toasted coconut into the spaces between the rings.

Resift flour with baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Beat butter with electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and vanilla, and beat for a few minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar in bits, beating after each addition. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in the flour mixture with a spatula in three parts, alternating with the liquid. Begin and end with flour, and stir only until the batter is smooth. Pour over fruit and spread it level.

Bake 40 minutes, until top is well browned and a tooth pick comes out clean. If you’re not using a nonstick pan, run a knife around edges. Cover the skillet or pan with a dessert platter and invert. Wait a minute or so to let the juices run down the sides. Then carefully (carefully) lift off the skillet.

Or, for the inside-out effect, pour the contents of the skillet or pan onto the platter, from a height of 8-12 inches.

The Rules

As a first-time novelist, I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of “rules” in writing.

There are no rules. Rules are meant to be broken. Make your own rules. Trust your gut.

On the other hand: Fiction writing has certain techniques–let’s admit it, rules. Learning those techniques can make one’s writing better.

On the other-other hand (I love that other-other hand): If you’ve ever been in a writing program or a writing workshop, many of the things people tell you not to do have been done before. (By very talented people, with great care, but nonetheless.)

As they say, You have to learn the rules before you can break them.

I’ve started a little project to reread books that break the rules. My goal: Find out how certain authors get away with rule-breaking.

At the moment, I’m a little over 100 pages into Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Here’s one rule Rushdie flouts: A first-person narrator can only relate the things he or she sees/hears/tastes/smells/feels. The main character, Saleem Sinai, has so far narrated more than 100 pages covering events that happened before his birth–in great detail, much more so than could be accounted for by his having heard family stories. Rushdie explains this simply: The narrator reveals that he has a supernatural ability to know everything.

Oh, of course.

Midnight’s Children is a comical, satirical, and often magical novel, and that helps Rushdie get away with his conceit of an omniscient first-person narrator. Plus, Rushdie’s book is about the birth of a nation, but it’s also about fate and the impact of history on individual lives. The point of view he chose promotes those themes perfectly.

I’ll be back with more rule-breaking from the book … In the meantime, tell me about your favorite books that “break the rules.”