January tends to be a time for self-flagellation. Drinks are foregone, exercise regimes are started and bad habits are renounced. It’s also a time when most are keeping a tighter hold on their pursestrings. And all of this is, to differing extents, commendable. But as the days remain short, and Christmas festivities fade to a distant memory, this can be the time we are most dearly in need of cheering.
Enter the pineapple upside-down cake. Discs of sunshine, dotted with cherry jewels, sticky and glistening, arranged into pleasing patterns, baked with the fruit on the bottom, hidden until the final reveal. It’s no surprise that this pleasingly old fashioned cake has withstood the test of time: it cannot fail to delight.
Naturally, I can’t leave alone, so there are a couple of small variations to the classic: traditionally, this cake would be made with normal glacé cherries, but now it’s possible to get glacé morello cherries for mere pennies more. They’re darker than the normal glacé cherry, scarlet veering into burgundy, and have an almost almond depth to them, far more interesting than the sweeter variety. I use light brown sugar in the sponge – which gives a caramel note –and ground cardamom provides just the right amount of background spice.
Of course, you can eat this as a normal cake, cooled and sliced but, for my money it’s best eaten as a pudding: rewarmed, and served in a bowl with a drizzle of cream.
Two notes: first, make sure your cake tin is a snug fitting one, or use a metal pie dish: if the tin has wiggle room between the sides and the base, the caramel at the bottom will leak out before it has a chance to thicken, and you won’t get a clean release. Second, demould the cake as soon as it’s out of the oven, or the caramel will set and you’ll struggle to free the fruit. That said, if you do end up with a piece of stuck pineapple, or a wayward cherry, just pop it back on top of the cake – trust me, no one will notice.
Pineapple upside-down cake
Makes: 1 8-inch cake (8 portions)
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 40 minutes
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
7 pineapple rings, plus juice from the tin
19 morello glacé cherries
150g salted butter
150g light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
150g self-raising flour
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease the base of an eight inch cake tin generously with butter.
2. Sprinkle the base with three tablespoons of light brown sugar. Lay one pineapple ring in the very centre, and the six other pineapple rings neatly around it – you may need to squeeze the final one in. Place a glacé cherry in each gap between the rings, and one in the centre of each ring.
3. Cream together the rest of the light brown sugar with the butter until pale and fluffy. Weigh out the flour and stir through the cardamom. Add an egg to the creamed butter and sugar and beat until it is completely combined. Add a third of the spiced flour to the mixture and fold through. Alternate the rest of the eggs and flour until all are mixed through. Add juice from the tinned pineapple, tablespoon by tablespoon until the mixture will just drop from a spoon: go slowly, you don’t want it to be runny.
4. Spoon the mixture on top of the pineapple, spreading it gently so that it forms an even layer.
5. Bake for 40 minutes, until the sponge is risen and golden and, when pressed gently with a finger, will spring back.
6. As soon as the cake’s out of the oven, run the back of a knife around the edge of the cake tin. If you’re using a tin with a removable base, push the base up through the rest of the tin, and place a serving plate on top of the cake. Upend with confidence so that the cake is now the right way up on the plate. Remove the tin base from the cake, carefully sliding a knife between it and the pineapple if it’s reluctant to release.