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Upside-down cakes have a homey charm but can be elegant, too |

Upside-down cakes have a homey charm but can be elegant, too

By Joan Harvey | For The Oregonian/OregonLive

Some food is just nothing but trouble.

I’m not talking about controversial foods like veal and almonds and pork; I’m talking about the foods that some people love and ask for and that other people, maybe even most people, just hate. Think broccoli, fruitcake, anchovies and tuna noodle casserole. The real haters are usually so incensed they have to declare their opposition, usually in tones that suggest they’re making a great, brave moral statement. The more polite will simply sit and seethe, but you can bet they’ll rant all the way home.

Alas, pineapple upside-down cake is now one of those foods. Yes, the simple, old-fashioned, frumpy little cake is apparently anathema to a lot of otherwise rational people. Some people will cite a childhood of eating a cake-mix version or will mention the insult of the neon cherries version, but most haters just hate it because it’s there. And it’s their right, of course.

Recipes included with this story: Pineapple Upside-Down and Sideways Bundt Cake, Cranberry Upside-Down CakeRhubarb Upside-Down Cake

It’s a problem for the cook, however. In this day and age, cakes are baked only for groups and usually for celebrations. If the celebrant asks for a pineapple upside-down cake, it’s fairly likely that there will be at least two potential eaters who won’t like it. And they’re not going to take it sitting down.

My solution, I’m afraid, is two cakes. There’s a whole world of beautiful, yummy upside-down cakes that are quick, easy and inexpensive. They’re not new, of course, but they haven’t been around so much lately that people have come up with garish or mix versions. Upside-down cakes are relatively small, so two cakes usually equal one, two-layer cake.

There are many other reasons to love upside-down cakes. They are cakes without gooey, over-sweet, greasy frosting. They can highlight in-season fruit, but don’t require as much of it as a pie or cobbler. They are usually beautiful and the cook can play around with arranging the fruit into a fanciful pattern. Most importantly, they taste darn good.

Upside-down cakes have been around since before most homes had ovens. They were usually called “skillet cakes” and were cooked in cast iron skillets on top of the stove or in fireplaces. Many cooks still use the cast iron and their claims of a superior product can’t be disputed.

Pineapple upside-down cakes made their debut in the 1920s and were a fad in the 1950s, when the maraschino cherries were added. Except for the cake-mix version, the basics haven’t changed a great deal through the years. A bundt cake version might be more accurately called a pineapple sideways cake.

While upside-down cakes have a homey and rustic charm, they can be elegant and sophisticated, too. The classic French tarte tatin is an example.

Flipping the cake over while it’s still hot can be daunting at first, but if it’s done quickly and firmly, disasters are avoided. Many recipes call for lining the cake pan with parchment paper and a couple layers of grease and flour, but I’ve found a prodigious use of modern baking sprays (I use Baker’s Joy or White Cap) is simple and foolproof. Timing is important; the cake needs to rest a bit after coming out of the oven, but it needs to be flipped before the topping has time to set. There are a few minutes of leeway, however. If there is a small spot that sticks to the pan, it can easily be patched into the cake.

Children generally love pineapple upside-down cake, maybe even more with the cherries, and who can be so heartless as to deny a child’s request? If anyone objects, and you don’t feel like making another cake, just tell him or her to go eat some anchovies.

Category: Skillets  Tags: ,  Comments off
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