Every year on his birthday, the Other Half gets a pineapple upside-down cake - His favorite. But I mean, c'mon! It's a birthday cake! Shouldn't it be a little more special than just your average pineapple upside-down cake? So for his birthday last month, I had two missions: Make it more special, but also try to make it a little less bad-for-you. I succeeded at one of those goals... I fell a little short of the other one.
But, it's still just a tiny little bit less-bad! Usually, I make an entire 9 x 13 pan of this cake, but I can only fit one can of pineapple in it. Plus, all that sugary, buttery topping that pineapple upside-down is famous for! I'm worried about the hubby developing diabetes because his father had it. And now that he's getting older, gaining weight, and still hasn't done anything to change his diet, I'm even more worried about it. His favorite thing for his birthday could very well become his death sentence!
Last year, I tried to change the cake. That was a bust. The less-butter, less-sugar cake I made was tasteless and dry. No amount of gooey topping could change it. This year, I went back to the classic cake (see the recipe for how I already make that a-little-healthier!), and worked to change that topping instead. By baking the cake in two smaller round pans, I was able to fit two cans of pineapple in the cake. More fruit = good, right? (Well, kinda...) And then I reduced the amount of butter and sugar for the topping, so there will be just a kiss of that caramel-y goodness.
It's a hit! The cake was moist without being drenched in butter/sugar sauce, the extra fruit added a ton of flavor, and he ate half the cake in under two days. If only I could get him to understand that cake does not equal "good for you" just because it has fruit in it. So much for trying to get him to eat healthier! Let's get to that recipe:
For the prep work:
One 8" and one 9" round cake pans
*I used spring-form pans, because that's all I have right now! I tried two 8" round pans, but the batter was almost overflowing. If you don't have/want two different sizes, use two 9" pans.
Flour for dusting
Electric stand or handheld mixer
For the topping:
2 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons brown sugar
(2) 20 oz. cans pineapple - in juice, not syrup - minus about 1/2 can
*You'll need some of that juice for the cake! Make sure to reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid, and reserve about 1/2 can of fruit for cake
For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 - 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 - 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 - 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 1/2 can pineapple reserved from topping, plus flour for dusting
Used as garnish (optional):
Dried pineapple pieces and dried sweetened cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
While the oven preheats, prepare the pans. Spray the sides with non-stick cooking spray and dust with flour.
I got quite a bit of over-spray on the bottoms of my pans, resulting in much of the base being floured, too. The little extra flour just adds some glossiness to the topping, and I don't worry about cleaning it up unless there's big clumps.
There's just one tablespoon of butter -sliced thin- for the topping in each pan - plus or minus a little. Since one pan is bigger, I take one from the small pan and divide it in the larger pan.
Pop the pans in the preheating oven for a minute to melt the butter.
Only a minute to melt that thinly sliced butter! Now, to add the sugar: As for the butter, I take a bit from the two tablespoons of sugar in the small pan and add it to the two tablespoons in the larger pan.
Place the pineapple rings in each pan as close to each other as possible, but don't crush them together.
Now, for the cake!
This classic yellow cake is moist and buttery... And not exactly a healthy option. In my opinion, you just can't have yellow cake - or cake at all - without butter. To make this cake without butter is like making frosting without sugar. It might look like cake, but it will have a taste and texture more like something from the local sawmill. Use butter, or don't make the cake.
Where we get to make it a little healthier is with the milk - Go ahead and use non-fat if you want to. Or, use whole milk if you want. Either way, we're going to take a little of the milk out of the classic butter cake, and add that reserved pineapple juice.
Now, I learned the hard way that this makes a little extra work... You already have to alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk, but you can't just add the milk to the pineapple juice, so you'll have to alternate three things. The first time I tried this recipe I dumped the pineapple juice into the milk right before I started creaming the first ingredients, and the milk was cottage cheese by the time I needed to add it. So, don't skip that step. I know it's more work, but it's worth it. Something about the juice - maybe the acidity? - makes the cake even softer and fluffier than your average yellow cake.
The first thing to do is cream the butter and sugar together. Beat on medium to high until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time while mixing, and then the vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth, creamy, and golden yellow.
The remaining steps are too difficult for me to do while taking pictures, but you'll be okay from here: Sift together the dry ingredients, and measure out the milk and pineapple juice. Usually, you would alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk in thirds, but you'll need to stretch those dry ingredients a little farther.
While mixing on medium speed, add less than a cup of the dry ingredients. Mixing until incorporated between each: About a fourth of the milk, then another scant cup of flour mixture. Add half of the pineapple juice, more flour, another fourth of milk, flour again, and the other half of the juice. Alternate the remaining flour and milk until completely incorporated.
Split the batter between the pans, adding about a cup extra to the larger pan, if using two sizes. Sprinkle the remaining pineapple slices with flour, place on top of the batter in the larger pan (or whichever will be the bottom layer).
Even if you're using two pans that are the same size, your bottom layer with the extra fruit may need up to 10 minutes of additional cooking time. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Find a spot without fruit to check it!)
Allow the cakes to rest on a wire rack just until cool enough to handle.
Now, fun! Invert the larger or bottom layer onto a plate. Place the plate on top of the cake, hold the plate and cake pan firmly together, and flip!
Here's the "dirty" part: You have one shot here. Once the sticky top touches the bottom cake, it stays there. You're not moving it. You'll probably have to touch the cake a little, unless you have magic powers. But that's okay, since this doesn't have all that runny, gooey topping! You might get a little sticky. The top layer is more difficult to flip onto the existing cake. Line up the edge where you want it, hold it in place with a (clean) hand as you gently invert the pan, and hold your breath as you slide it off.
Many people like to add maraschino cherries, but The Other Half prefers his pineapple upside-down cake with strawberries. Of course at the time, strawberries weren't available. I stuck to just pineapple this time, and chose to garnish it with some crushed dried pineapple.
As you can see in the first display photo, I added some dried cranberries to pretty it up with a bit of color. I thought about baking them into the cake to replace the strawberries, and I'm sooo glad I didn't. I liked it. A lot. But The Other Half took one bite with the cranberries and pushed the rest of the garnish to the side. Oh well. At least he still says it's the best pineapple upside-down cake he's ever had, and he doesn't even notice that I cut the sugary topping in half, added more fruit, and replaced a bit of the fat.