Once upon a time, I embarked on a quest to find the perfect pineapple upside-down cake recipe. Why? I wanted to impress a boy, and this was his favorite dessert. What I didn't know was that this boy had very poor taste and actually preferred the processed and pre-packaged versions of "the real thing." For example, he often spoke of his love for macaroni and cheese, so one day I surprised him with homemade macaroni and cheese - the kind you bake in a casserole dish, with several kinds of cheese, replete with Ritz crackers crumbled on top - served with warm applesauce. His favorite, right? He took one bite, and said, "This is delicious!" (yes!) "What IS this?" (what??!) and, "ew, WARM applesauce?!" (whaaat?!!) Same story with the pineapple upside down cake - apparently it involves yellow cake mix. Not that I have anything against yellow cake mix; I'm actually quite fond of it - but I wanted to learn how to make a REAL pineapple upside-down cake, from scratch. With booze! I tried out three or four recipes before settling on one that really turned out great, with a few tweaks. The boy didn't work out, but the cake sure did.
You can find the original recipe HERE.
I don't follow those directions precisely. Here are my tweaks:
**For topping, go ahead and use a full stick of unsalted butter.
**Make it a full cup of brown sugar, too. The caramelized glaze is the best part - don't skimp! I used dark brown, rather than light brown. I'm sure either one would be lovely, but that's what I always have on hand, so that's what I use.
**Gourmet and Epicurious instruct you to use a fresh pineapple, which sounds great, but good luck finding a decent looking pineapple in the middle of January. I'm sure fresh pineapple makes a fabulous cake, but I always use canned, no regrets. It's much faster and less messy - plus, you can use the juice for the cake batter.
**Now, about that batter...the recipe calls for 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground cardamom. The first time I made this, I'd never even heard of cardamom, and I certainly didn't have any on my spice rack - but I was past the point of no return and up to my elbows in cake batter. I can be a little impulsive when I bake! In a panic, I Google'd cardamom, and decided that 1/2 teaspoon of all spice plus 1 teaspoon of cinnamon would do the trick. It did the trick just fine. Since then, I have added cardamom to my spice arsenal, and I find that 2 teaspoons is just about right. The fresher it is, the more potent, and it can be overpowering, so start with a little less and see how you like it.
**You can add an extra egg if you want the cake to be spongier (more like yellow cake mix).
**I definitely use more rum for sprinkling than is called for in the recipe. Myers dark rum has a great flavor and really compliments the subtle spiceyness of this cake.
**The recipe mentions this, and I want to emphasize it: the batter WILL curdle when you add the pineapple juice. Don't worry, it's supposed to look that creepy - you didn't do anything wrong!
**I don't use a cast iron skillet, but that's only because I'm still mourning the loss of the old, perfectly seasoned one my college roommate put through the dishwasher and I haven't yet replaced. If you have one that fits the bill, by all means use it! I use standard round, non-stick cake pans, lined with a circle of parchment paper at the bottom. I skip the initial melting and simmering and just place the butter and brown sugar directly into the cake pan, then arrange the pineapple on top and pour the cake batter over that.
**I always double the recipe :-)