Pineapple Downside-Up Cake: A Hankering

Hankering is a fabulous concept. It encapsulates a culinary quest; a determination to carefully hunt down and savour whatever delicious morsel might have lodged itself in your consciousness this week. Like its younger cousin, the craving, hankerings won’t go away until they’re satisfied – but that’s where the similarities end. A hankering can wait, humming quietly to itself in the back of your mind for a few days, whereas a craving crashes in and swings off your frontal lobes, screaming, until you throw chocolate at it. 

This is in part due to the way hankerings and cravings are formatted as verbs: you must hanker after something, as if you (the hankerer) and the object being hanked (the hankee) are separated by some sort of spatiotemporal distance. Cravings, however, arrive with no such prepositional baggage – they are urgent and they know it. In this same vein, I don’t believe it is possible to hanker after something you already have in the house, or that exists as a purchasable object (e.g. a bag of jelly babies) in the nearby corner shop. A hankering is often specific and complex and you have to go out of your way to make or get it: they’re for a dish you’ve had in a restaurant once, or a particular flavour combination, or something you ate 10 years ago and have just seen a photograph of in a lifestyle magazine in the loo at your friend’s house. My latest hankering turned up completely out of the blue. I was unloading the washing machine when it let itself in the back of my brain and said, “pineapple upside down cake”, just like that, in italics. It then poured itself a glass of wine and did the crossword while I hung up a batch of towels. 

I have not eaten pineapple upside down cake since primary school. I can’t even remember if I especially liked pineapple upside down cake at primary school. Either way, my brain, 13 years on, now hankered after it, and so I hatched a planning cun to make one for a dinner I was hosting a few days later. The Hankering, now smoking a pipe next to my hypothalamus, then mentioned that this pineapple upside-down cake should have gleaming red glacé cherries in the middle of the pineapple rings, just as the 70s intended. What the hankering couldn’t tell me was whether I should use canned or fresh pineapple, so I rang my friend Lucy, who I know to be a regular maker of pineapple upside-down cake, to ask what I should do. She said that it must be tinned pineapple, and she never bothers caramelising it, and that if I didn’t use red glacé cherries, she’d come back to haunt me if she dies first. I reassured her that she wouldn’t have to go to such measures – I already had some in. 

I thought a vanilla sponge would fit best with the panache of tinned pineapples and glacé cherries, although a coconut and jam sponge, a-la school dinners or Australian lamingtons, would also have been stonking. But plain cakes are having a bit of a moment, so I honoured simplicity this time. The end result was lovely; a light and fluffy sponge layer supporting a kaleidoscope of fruit on top. (As an aside, the cherries had caramelised slightly in the oven which meant that they resembled the rust-coloured noses found on little white dogs rather than the glistening red beacons of vintage sophistication I had envisaged, but they were all the more delicious for it).

My hankering was very pleased, and once I served the cake with coconut-milk caramel rum sauce and some vanilla ice cream, it was so delighted that it disappeared altogether, which is the mark of true satisfaction.

So, if you too have a hankering for pineapple upside down cake (and really, it should be called pineapple down-side up cake. Because you put the down-side up when you want to serve it), do please indulge it in the following recipe. 

You will need:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g of self raising flour, or 200g of plain flour mixed with 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 200g of butter or baking spread. I use a mix of half and half for a good compromise between budget and flavour. 
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • Approximately 6 rings of pineapple from a tin
  • 8-10 glacé cherries, plus extra for snaffling

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. I have just moved into a new flat with a new oven, which has absolutely no markings on either dial, so this was complete guesswork for me but it came out fine because I’m #blessed. Grease and line a 23 cm cake tin here too – it’s about the only thing in the world that helps to be loose-bottomed. 

Whip the butter/baking spread lightly with a balloon whisk to soften, then add the caster sugar. Beat the everloving daylights out of it until it’s very pale and very fluffy and your tricep hurts if, like me, you don’t own an electric whisk. Add in the vanilla extract here. 

Now, crack the eggs into the sugar and butter mix one at a time, beating very very well again after each addition. If you wanted to be extra methodical about this and really don’t want to risk your chances of a big ol’ curdle, then you could crack the eggs into a separate bowl, whisk them up and splosh them in a little at a time. I like to live life dangerously so I tend not to do this but what I’m getting at is that you can’t add all your eggs in at once or bad things will happen. 

When all your eggs are incorporated, it’s very important to switch from using a whisk to a wooden spoon or similar implement, as you’re going to be folding in the flour next. This is the part where you really make or break the texture of the cake, so fold in the flour gently, scooping from the bottom, until everything is just combined and there are no lumps or inconsistencies remaining. 

And now to the 70s arrangement of pineapple for the downside-up part. You can either keep the rings whole and pop 4 of them in the bottom of the cake tin, or you can do a bit of a mosaic here like I did and break them so they tesselate into the round edges, popping a cherry in the gaps rather than directly in the middle of the hole. 

When you’re happy with your arrangement, you can then carefully scoop the cake mix over it, making sure you don’t dislodge any of the cherries or pineapple as you do so. Spread it about evenly, then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer, toothpick, or chopstick comes out clean when inserted into the middle. 

Turn out the cake onto a plate (this is where the pineapple is no longer upside-down, but actually down-side up) and serve with your choice of custard, ice cream, caramel sauce or cream.  

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