‘Get a pineapple,’ Madeline hissed.
I had the good fortune to meet Madeline at pastry school five years ago. She holds one of the most coveted jobs in the Bay Area: stocking the produce department of Rainbow Grocery Co-op. Rainbow receives around 50 job applications per day, and many of their workers have been there for decades.
‘I’ve shoved people out of the way to get one of these,’ Madeline continued. ‘We only carry them for a few weeks every year.’ Never one to question Madeline’s expertise, I grabbed a pineapple and took it home.
Kapalua Pineapples are transitionally grown on Maui sans pesticides. They are smaller than the ones I usually see in California, more gold than green, intensely fragrant, and the flesh dense and flavorful.
But there was one problem: I don’t like pineapple.
I generally try to keep an open mind about produce. I theorize that many peoples’ produce prejudices stem from one bad childhood experience, like being force-fed canned beets, for instance, or biting into an under-ripe hachiya persimmon, or being traumatized by a watery rhubarb pie. Continental breakfast fruit salads, consisting of sour kiwis, cardboard melons, bland grapes, mealy apples and too-tart pineapples, have come close to ruining many fruits for me. I’ve managed to overcome my aversion to melons, apples and grapes, thanks to the many excellent specimens I have tasted.
But there’s something about pineapples that I just can’t get past. (And don’t even get me started on kiwis.)
I thought things would be different with the Kapalua pineapple, that it would be akin to the concord grapes we eat straight from the vine at Jay’s mom’s, or the crisp fuji apples that show up in the fall, or the fragrant melons that we sometimes get in our box. I thought it could change my mind.
But a taste of the raw pineapple still made my nose wrinkle.
So I figured that stewing the pineapple in brown sugar and grated ginger, and baking it under a coconut-milk-laced cake, would surely make me love it. I turned to Cook’s Illustrated, and adapted the recipe to use the scant 4 cups of fruit I had ended up with, baked in my 8″ cast-iron skillet. Caramelizing the pineapple in unrefined brown sugar certainly helped, and the resulting tangy caramel tasted like heaven, but it was the cake that surprised me the most: incredibly tender and moist from the addition of coconut milk.
There is something so satisfying about fruited upside-down cakes. Part of why I like baking is that it’s kind of like magic: you put a lump of dough into the oven, and a while later, it has transformed into something else. With upside-down cakes, there is the additionally magical moment of turning out the cake to reveal a crown of caramelized fruit, glistening like jewels.
I made coconut lemongrass ice cream, adapted from one of the most beautiful food blogs out there, to go with this cake, and found that it tempered what tang the pineapple had left. The ice cream base is thickened with both egg yolks and cornstarch, which gives it a soft, gelato-like texture. The delicate flavors of lemongrass, lime and coconut all blend together beautifully. A sprinkling of toasted, chopped macadamias, hand roasted and carried back from Maui by my dear friend Amelia, added a bit of crunch.
My friend remarked that this combination of cake and ice cream tasted somehow like fruit loops, ‘only good.’ Once she said so, I could taste it, too. At first I took offense, but after a few more bites I decided that I’m ok with my ginger pineapple upside-down cake and coconut lemongrass ice cream tasting like fruit loops.
Just so long as they don’t taste like hotel fruit salad.
Ginger Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (with Coconut Lemongrass Ice cream)
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes one 8″ cake, 6 – 8 servings
Make the ice cream a day ahead (or early in the day), so that the base has time to chill, and the churned ice cream has time to ‘cure’ or firm up in the freezer.
I cooked the pineapple and baked the cake in a cast iron skillet whose base measures 6 1/2″ in diameter, and the top 8″. I’d imagine you could bake the cake in a 6 or 7″ cake pan with 2″ high sides, or make individual cakes in well-greased muffin cups. You’ll have just the right amount of coconut milk (and an egg yolk, too) leftover to make Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream, below. Alternately, you can increase the cake recipe by 25% (1 cup of sugar in the topping, etc.), bake the cake in a 10″ skillet or 9″ cake pan, and serve the cake with store-bought (or home-made) vanilla ice cream. Complicated, I know. See? Pineapples are complicated.
A ripe pineapple should smell tantalizing, and be mostly yellow in color. Adding half of a vanilla bean to the pineapple topping in place of the ginger could be a nice change. At work, we use pineapple peel to make Chicha Morada, an Andean fruit punch made with purple corn, citrus and spices: tasty.
For the topping:
1 medium pineapple, 2 1/2 pounds (to make 3 – 4 cups prepared pineapple)
3/4 cup unrefined sugar (such as Eco Goods) or light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unrefined or light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temp
1 egg white, at room temp
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
coconut lemongrass ice cream (below)
toasted, chopped macadamia nuts
Prepare the pineapple:
Twist off the crown of pineapple leaves and discard. Slice off the top and bottom ends of the pineapple to make flat surfaces. With a cut side down, use a large chef’s knife to remove strips of the peel, following the curve of the pineapple as much as possible. When the peel is removed, cut the pineapple in half lengthwise, then in half again to make quarters. Place a quarter cut side down and cut off the pale-yellow core. Slice the quarter lengthwise into into 3/4 inch pieces, then cut the pieces crosswise into 1/2 inch chunks. Repeat with the the remaining quarters.
Cook the pineapple topping:
In an 8″ oven-proof skillet, combine the pineapple chunks, unrefined sugar and grated ginger. Cook over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until the pineapple chunks are translucent and brown from the sugar and the sauce bubbles thickly, about 15 minutes. You should have around 1 1/2 cups of fruit.
Place the pineapple in a strainer set over a bowl to catch the juices. Let drain for a few minutes, pressing on the pineapple gently, then return the juices to the pan, leaving the pineapple to drain further. Cook the juices over medium heat until reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes, adding any additionally drained juices to the pan halfway through. (The pineapple will continue to drain, but don’t add any more of the juices to the thickened sauce. Rather, drink them, or save to drizzle over slices of the finished cake.) Remove the sauce from the heat, and add the butter, salt and vanilla, stirring to combine. (If baking the cake in the skillet, let the sauce cool. If baking the cake in a different pan, grease the pan, then pour the hot sauce into the pan to coat the bottom.)
Make the cake batter:
Position a rack in the lower-center of the oven and preheat to 350º.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a sturdy wooden spoon), cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed until lightened and fluffy, 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, sift or whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt into a smallish bowl. Stir the vanilla into the coconut milk.
Add the egg, then the egg white, to the creaming butter, beating after each addition until incorporated. Turn the mixer speed to low. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, beating until just incorporated, then half of the coconut milk. Repeat, then add the rest of the dries. Remove the bowl from the stand, and fold with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is well-mixed.
Assemble and bake the cake:
Lay the cooked, drained pineapple chunks over the caramel. Spread the cake batter over the pineapple. Bake the cake until golden, beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a tester comes out clean, 35 – 40 minutes. Let the cake cool for a few minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides of the cake to loosen it. Carefully invert the cake onto a large plate or serving platter. (To do this painlessly, invert a plate over the cake, then, wearing oven mitts, grasp the pan and plate together and flip them both over.) Remove the pan from the cake, replacing any pineapple chunks that may have become dislodged or stuck to the pan.
Let the cake cool to room temperature, 1 – 2 hours. Serve slices with scoops of coconut lemongrass ice cream and chopped, toasted macadamias. The cake is best served the day it is made, but will keep for a few days in the fridge; re-warm in an oven or toaster oven.
Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream
Adapted from Nordljus
Makes about 1 pint
2 large stalks lemongrass, bruised and chopped into 2″ lengths
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons 300 mL) canned coconut milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (7 grams) cornstarch
1/2 cup (75 mL) heavy cream
zest of 1 lime
In a small saucepan, heat the lemongrass, coconut milk and half the sugar until very warm, swirling occasionally. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and steep for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the lemongrass to extract all the coconut milk. Discard the lemongrass.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar and the cornstarch. Whisk in the egg yolks. Dribble in the warm coconut milk, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, place over a medium-low flame, and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot constantly with a heat-proof spatula, until the mixture thickens and reaches 170ºF. Remove from the heat and immediately strain into a heatproof container. Stir in the heavy cream and the lime zest.
Chill the mixture until very cold, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
Spin in an ice cream maker, then chill in the freezer for 2 hours until firm.