Dog people / cat people; cilantro / no cilantro; bikini / tankini / no-kini – there are a lot important preferences in this world but I discovered a new one recently: those who think pineapple upside-down cake is antiquated, disgusting, extinct even / those who find it to be the most fantastic thing either side of the Mississippi.
Our magical god-mother, Kristen, arrived to Hannah’s Easter party this year with a pineapple upside-down cake in-hand and changed my life forever. I spent much of the party saddled up to the dessert table eating the cake straight off the platter (my apologies… or rather #sorrynotsorry, that’s still a thing, right?). I had been converted and knew right then-and-there I had to make it for my husband’s upcoming birthday. When I told Kristen this she explained that her grandma Tilly had made Kristen’s father that very same cake every year for his birthday. Well, dear reader, I smell a new tradition in my house and it smells like rightside-up cake. And on the 8th day, God said, “please save me a piece of that cake.”
Since this is Kristen’s recipe I decided to pay homage to her by actually organizing my ingredients before I began; usually I am a wild gal with a bag of flour in a wet sink trying desperately to find baking powder while balancing bowls on top of bowls and trying to listen to my girl Lynne Rossetto Kasper talk about lard bread and latin-chinese-polish fusion desserts on my Splendid Table podcast… Kristen’s way is obviously better.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees – melt butter with brown sugar in cast iron skillet in the oven.
2. Separate yolks from whites and add a dash of salt to the whites.
3. Cream white sugar and egg yolks.
4. Sift or whisk flour and baking powder. Add the yolk and sugar mixture alternately with the egg whites, and 1/4 cup of pineapple slush (liquid and pineapple left over in the can mushed up).
5. Lay pineapples on top of brown sugar and butter mixture. Add berries if you wish to the center of the pineapples.
6. Dollop/spread batter into the pan and bake for roughly 30 minutes. DON’T OVER BAKE!!!
We were without a proper camera on the cake’s big day – many apologies. She was prettier than this in real life, but always remember that it’s whats on the inside that really counts: sugar and flour and butter and all that crazy stuff.
And thank you to Kristen’s grandma Tilly – who here looks like a Pineapple Cake Angel.
Last fall, I was visiting my family in New York for my step-dad’s 60th birthday. My mom pulled out her new cookbook, Southern Cakes, which she had bought at the iconic Oxford, Mississippi bookstore, Square Books. She proclaimed that she would be baking “Gigi’s Fabulous Caramel Cake“ for the birthday soiree. This was the best caramel cake I had ever tasted albeit not the prettiest. Near Christmas, I was traveling in Mississippi and stopped in Oxford where I too purchased Southern Cakes at Square Books. Easter came and I decided to make the caramel cake for my annual Easter egg hunt. Naturally mine would turn out to be impeccably beautiful and I would send my mom a picture to show her how it’s done. Well, I had no idea how difficult it was to work with caramel frosting and my frosting job made her’s look like an Ina Garten creation. Humbled, I resorted to making an extra batch of frosting and putting a second layer on it to try and make it look half way decent. Truly, it did not matter as the cake was so good it was gone in 20 minutes. Every baker, Southern or not, should own this little gem of a cookbook. And every daughter should just accept the fact her mother does everything better.
Gigi’s Fabulous Caramel Cake
3/4 cup butter
Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Combine butter and milk in a small sauce pan and cook until the butter melts. Let cool. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and mix well. In a large bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beat well at high speed until smooth and thick. Stir the dry mixture, egg mixture, milk mixture and vanilla together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour batter in to prepared bake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool.
In a sauce pan, combine the brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat so that the frosting oils and bubbles gently. Cook for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Beat the warm icing until it thickens. Place a cake layer, top side down, on a cake stand or plate. Quickly spread some icing over the top and cover it with the second layer, top side up. Ice the top quickly and then spread the remaining icing over the sides. If the icing become too hard to spread, warm gently over low heat add a spoonful of evaporated milk and then scrape and stir well until the icing softens enough to spread again. Dip a table knife in very hot water to help soften and smooth icing out once it is spread.
I was not raised in a typical Southern home. There was no fried chicken or biscuits and gravy to be found. We mostly existed on brown rice, tofu and steamed vegetables. I pretty much hated my culinary childhood. When we would visit my grandparents or our family in Kentucky, I got introduced to the glorious world of true Southern cooking and an unbridled love of coconut cake was born. My Aunt Tippie served hers with boiled custard and my Grandparents never had a family function without Miss Leetha’s famous coconut cake. My sisters and I would fill our plates and stow away in the laundry room, far from our mother’s watchful eye and eat our selves into diabetic comas. In my adult life, I have been on a mission to find the perfect recipe… and at last it has been found. Our dearest adopted family member, Kristen deLauer, gave me this recipe a few years ago and I kid you not, it has made me the most popular woman in Nashville. Perhaps I exaggerate slightly, and at times I fear the party invitations are extended solely based upon my willingness to bring said cake, but I digress. Point being, this cake is crazy good. Thank you, Kristen!!