Category Archives: Cooking as a writer

No Time for Breadcrumbs

At my house, uneaten bread butts get stuffed, in their original packaging, into the back of the fridge. Months go by, and we end up with a pile-up of stale, hopefully not moldy, bread taking up valuable refrigerator real estate. It usually takes weeks of me saying “I really must make bread crumbs out of all that old bread” before I finally haul out the blender and cookie sheet. Sometimes, the longer I put it off, the more bread there is to tear up, grind into bits, and toast in the oven. It’s worth it though: homemade chicken nuggets, veal parmesan, pasta with bread crumbs. All become possible. Yum.

Sometimes, the longer I put it off the more mold has invaded the plastic bags–and I end up tossing all the bread butts out. No yum.

At this very moment, there is a hill of old bread on my kitchen table, only one batch of bread crumbs done and ready to pour into a Tupperware, and a dawning realization that if I want to finish the whole job, I may have to stay up till midnight.

Yes, this all seems like my writing process. And yes, I’d work on my novel tonight, but I have some bread crumbs to make.

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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.