pineapple and pecan upside-down cake

Welcome back! We have been working on this project for about three and a half months now, and have officially completed the Loaf Cakes and Single Layer Cakes chapter of Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person (with the exception of the Spiced Persimmon Loaf, which we’ll circle back to at the end of the year). We completed bake number 18 this week, which was the Pineapple and Pecan Upside-Down Cake.

Lauren’s Take

Hello and happy long weekend! Long weekends for me are a time when I can completely check out of responsibility, drink mojitos, read my book, lay out in the sun…and of course bake a fabulous dessert to enjoy. And this long weekend was no exception to that with our bake this week—the Pineapple and Pecan Upside-Down Cake!

And even more exciting than a three-day weekend… we made it through the first chapter of the book! I know I’ve remarked on this multiple times, but I really do feel grateful for this journey that my sister and I decided to take—grateful for the opportunity to be creative each week, to try new things, to connect with my sister in a cool way, and to have met so many wonderful and kind new people along the journey. To think that we’ve already had such an amazing experience and all we’ve made are single layer desserts.

Anyways, back to the bake. This week’s bake is fairly straightforward as well but does involve a few different steps. The first thing you have to do is cut and poach the pineapple pieces that will become the top of the cake. I cheated and got the pineapple from the grocery store that is already pre-peeled and cored, and honestly no regrets (see previous posts to appreciate my loathing of chopping things). You poach the pineapple in a mixture of dark rum, brown sugar, and a bit of water (delish) until the fruit gets soft and translucent. Claire says this takes about 10-15 minutes and mine took about 20 minutes to really soften. You then remove the pineapple pieces leaving the sugar-y rum mixture and the pineapple juices in the saucepan. This becomes the base of your caramel.

You add some butter to your caramel mixture and swirl the pan regularly until the liquid thickens. Now this is where I think Claire was a bit over zealous in the recipe. She writes that this will take about 5-7minutes but it took SO LONG for me to get my caramel to thicken to the point I was about to give up and just accept a thicker syrup until it finally became a caramel. But I think in total that took about 15 or so minutes, if not longer. I do think that while you can wait longer for a thick caramel, making this cake with the liquid a bit thinner would still work out okay, so no need to panic for that.

Once the caramel is done, you pour it into the bottom of your cake pan and arrange the pineapple overtop in a tight pattern. This was a super fun and satisfying part of the bake for sure. But this was also where I made a classic Lauren blunder…I mistakenly used a springform pan instead of just a normal cake pan, so a TON of my caramel seeped out of the sides, leaving remnants on my counter, stove top, and in my oven…woops!

After the top of the upside-down cake is done, you make the actual cake which was a super enjoyable process due to the smell of roasted pecans the entire time. You first roast the nuts in the oven, and once they’ve cooled, put them in a food processor with your dry ingredients and pulse them until they’re ground. This mixture smells so good and ignited a new obsession with roasted pecans for me.

You then cream the butter and sugars (both granulated and brown) in the stand mixer, add eggs, and then alternate adding your pecan mixture with some buttermilk. As you can probably imagine, this makes a sugar-rich and creamy mixture and I had to stop myself from eating all the batter. Then, you just pour this cake batter over top of your pineapple design and bake until golden brown!

Once the cake is done, you only let it cool for about 15 minutes before revealing your upside-down pattern…any longer than that and the caramel will firm too much and it will be difficult to get the cake out of the pan (unless you mistakenly use a springform of course).

This cake was very beautiful to look at—I loved the pattern and shine of the pineapple on top, and the dark colour of the cake with the pecan pieces throughout made a cool contrast. My cake was not very sweet, and I’m not sure if that’s because I lost like 45% of my caramel, but it is definitely more of a hearty cake. But I did love the texture of the soft pineapple on top with the slight crunch of the pecan cake below. All in all, I give this cake 4 stars!

Julia’s Take

I cannot believe we are already one chapter down! I feel like we just began this journey together, and yet also can’t remember a time before my grocery list and my schedule didn’t revolve around what I’m baking from Dessert Person. This entire first chapter was such a delight; a lot of people have asked how we’re liking baking the book in order rather than randomly selecting different kinds of recipes from the book as we go. Honestly, even though everything is a “single layer cake,” I have not felt any repetition. Everything has been so unique in terms of techniques, textures, and flavour profiles that it’s never been boring. I know that that’s going to continue in the chapters to come, and while it takes a little bit of patience, I am absolutely loving tackling the bakes by category.

It has also been so much fun to have this creative outlet. Writing something just for fun; working through a recipe; trying new ingredients and methods; taking photos; experimenting with social media; meeting people from all over the world who love food and Claire as much as we do; and of course having an excuse to touch base more often and share an experience with Lauren—all of it has brought me so much joy, and I can’t wait for everything that’s still to come!

Now on to this week’s bake! A pineapple upside-down cake is such a nostalgic and classic dessert, but as always, Claire manages to give it a facelift and upgrade it to something new and extra special. The process of making this cake from start to finish was super enjoyable. I peeled and sliced my pineapple, and while I did manage to get nice, thin slices it definitely wasn’t my most uniform or aesthetically pleasing work. Making the caramel was also a little bit touch-and-go; you mix sugar, rum, and water together, then allow the pineapple slices to cook down in this liquid before removing them carefully and then waiting for the caramel mixture to thicken further. Mine was definitely not thickening in the allotted time, or even far passed that allotted time, and I could not figure out what I’d done wrong. I finally just gave up and poured the thick syrup (not caramel) into my cake pan. After allowing it to cool in the cake pan, it did thicken further and I was able to arrange my pineapple slices on top just fine.

The cake itself is very pecan-forward which I LOVED. The aroma of making this cake was just out of this world—first, pecans are roasted in the oven and then, once they’ve cooled, they get broken down in a food processer and mixed with the rest of the dry ingredients. You basically end up with half flour and half blitzed down roasted pecans which creates not only an amazing smell, but also a fantastic, rich colour. Once you have your dry blend, it gets mixed in with butter, brown and granulated sugars, egg, and buttermilk. I could have eaten this entire bowl of batter on its own!

Dollops of the delicious sugary pecany batter are placed on top of the pineapple design, smoothed out, and then the cake bakes, filling the whole house with that incredible roasted scent. Truly one of the most comforting things in the world. After the cake has cooled for 15 minutes, you flip it over to reveal the beautiful pineapple design; there is always a little thrill that comes from that flip and reveal—upside-down cakes might be my new favourite thing. Claire says you can warm up some apricot jam and brush it over the pineapple slices as a glaze; I happened to have some apricot jam in my fridge so I did this and it added such a pretty shine to the cake, as well as extra flavour.

This cake was so comforting, so delicious, so fun to make, and so beautiful to look at. It’s another 4-star bake from me!

Next week we begin our journey through the Pies and Tarts chapter and we are SO excited! Check back on Sunday for the Cranberry Pomegranate Mousse Pie!