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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I should have announced this on my program more often than I did this week, but with so many guests (all bakers, all the time), and so many commercials (Christmas season), I didn't have enough time:

I will be on the CBS Saturday Early Show this Saturday. They tell me my segment will air – live -- at about 10:30 or a little after in the New York Metro area. If you live elsewhere, check local listings.

I will be doing what they call the Chef on a Shoestring segment, and I will be demonstrating Barilla's Oven-Ready Lasagne. My $30 dinner for four starts with baked mussels (like baked clams, but cheaper and better), has a tart and peppery watercress and radish salad to go with the rather hearty lasagne filled with ricotta, mozzarella, spinach and diced salami (for the recipe see the Maven's Diary for December 5, 2002). My dessert is Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. That may not sound Italian, but the funny thing is my Neapolitan friends all think it is. It is one of the few cakes they bake themselves. Mostly, Italians buy cake and pastry at a bakery.

The following recipe is a 1925 prize winner from Dole, the company that first canned pineapple in Hawaii in 1899. Skillet cakes were a popular American cake type, often with fruit. Apparently once any American could afford pineapple, which previously had been only an exotic fruit available to the rich, we went crazy for it. All kinds of canned pineapple desserts and salads were created. When Dole ran its canned pineapple contest, the company was surprised to find that more than a third of the entries were for Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It is best made in a cast iron skillet. A well-seasoned one, a really black one, is almost as non-stick as Teflon. But we warned. If you let the cake cool more than few minutes, it will not unmold easily. The caramel formed by the butter and sugar on the bottom of the pan starts to harden.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Serves at least 6

Unfortunately, canned pineapple comes in thinner slices than it used to, so today's cake has a little more cake in proportion to fruit than in the old days. Today's cans also leave you with two extra slices. Consider it the chef's share. In other words, just eat it. Or, make the cake with a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple, and use it all.

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 20-ounce can sliced pineapple in heavy syrup, drained
Maraschino cherries, optional
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, separated (at room temperature)
2 cups flour, sifted before measuring (see note)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a 10 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet (a standard size), melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Swirl the pan so the sides get a film of butter, too. Spread the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan. Arrange the drained pineapple over the sugar. Add maraschino cherries to the center of each pineapple ring.

In a bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until it is light and fluffy. You will have to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl at least a couple of times.

Add the sugar just a few tablespoons at a time and beating it in thoroughly before adding the next few tablespoons, again scraping down the bowl a couple of times.

Beat in the egg yolks one at a time.

Place the sifted flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and use a wire whisk to mix them together well.

Add the vanilla to the milk.

Add half the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat to mix well. Add all the milk, and beat well again to mix well. Finally, beat in the remaining flour.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. With a rubber spatula, carefully fold half of the egg whites into the cake batter. When well incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites.

Scrape this thick batter onto the pineapple in the skillet, gently evening and smoothing the top.

Bake in the preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Let cool for no more than 5 minutes. Turn upside down on a serving dish.

If desired, garnish with maraschino cherries, if you haven't already.

The cake is delicious served with whipped cream or ice cream.

Note: Put a one-cup dry measure on a piece of waxed paper and sift the flour through a fine strainer or sifter into the cup and until the flour mounds in the cup. Swipe across the top of the cup with a straight edge to make a level measure. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl. Repeat for the second cup of flour, using fresh flour, not the overrun on the waxed paper. After measuring, pour the excess flour on the waxed paper back into your flour canister.

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