I grew up in Australia. Land of the big. Weekend drives to "big" destinations, featured heavily in my youth. My Dad loved nothing better than to pile my sister and I into the back of our panel van and drive long distances with my Mum. Our panel van, was pretty much like the one below, except it had orange net curtains, definitely no seatbelts or child booster seats. Just a mattress, loads of cushions and blankets, toys and of course the ubiquitous esky, because this was also the time when you could still drink (one or two beers, I am sure) whilst driving. I think I was six or so, and my sister three. Surprisingly, we survived, relatively unscathed!
I remember being so ridiculously excited going to the Big Pineapple because it would then be followed by a trip to the Big Cow! I mean, really, how much better could life get! But it did get sooo much better, because sometimes, if I didn't fight with my sister too much during the drive, we might get to share an ice cream sundae that came in the cut half of a pineapple. Actually, now that I recall, I don't think we ever did get that sundae - maybe because we fought incessantly. Or maybe a trip on the little train through the pineapple plantation to the baby farm yard. Or better yet, a jumbo sized Big Pineapple pencil. I tell you, growing up in the late 70's early 80's in Queensland was something else. Sure, you couldn't march on the streets, nor was there freedom of speech, and the state premier was an avid support of apartheid and oversaw a corrupt government. But what did all that matter, when you could visit big things? Bliss, I tell you, bliss.
I relived all those memories whilst making this weeks cake. I had an epiphany about why my Dad so loved those weekend drives... could it have had something to do with the peace that comes from two sleeping girls as the miles unfurl beneath the car?
I had such high hopes for this cake, because I managed to secure a packet of Swans Down cake flour from a US inspired bakery, right where I used to live - The Outsider Tart. I was imagining how light and fluffy that cake layer would be under the golden halo of pineapple. Bah. Ha. Ha. Ha. The folly.
A poor workman blames his tools, and so too, I had always thought it was the UK flour that lead to my leaden cakes. Ahem. Apparently it might have something to do with me. Surprising? Not really. This is one of those two step method cakes... with a few added extra steps. First, slice up your fresh pineapple - was I the only one who thought this instruction was weird? 6-8 slices of pineapple - cut 3 slices by under 1/4 inch thick. I couldn't work out why I would need 3 slices cut to specification, and then 3 slices cut however. I elected to cut all six slices to the same 1/4 inch thickness.
Pineapple in winter is quite surreal - so much like summer. What about the carbon footprint of that little pineapple? I figured the carbon footpoint would be the same no matter which season I made this cake... afterall, last time I checked, pineapple wasn't exactly growing in seasonal abundance in the UK. Actually, there is no "season" for pineapples, more like a pregnancy, it happens a certain duration after planting. That detail aside, still no pineapples in the UK.
The additional steps were all about caramel. Swoon. The caramel that is made to go in the bottom of the pan is amazing. Just the tiniest hint of pineapple, turbinado sugar (I used demerara), and butter, all brought up to 150 degrees c.
This caramel then gets divided between each of the cake pans. I used texas muffin pans which seemed a good size to me. Let me tell you, that caramel was good enough to wrap in wax paper and save for later or eat immediately. Instead, I daydreamed about how great it would taste on the top of my finished cakes. Instant gratification delayed...
Next additional step was to lay in the pineapple and cherry. Not exactly brain surgery, but the pineapple did need to be cut to size. And looking at the less than perfect cutting, lets be grateful that it wasn't brain surgery.
On to the infamous two step mixing method. This means that you beat the butter and some of the yogurt into the dry ingredients. This effectively coats the flour and prevents the forming of gluten in the later beating. The wet ingredients are then added in two batches. The resulting, quite thick batter is spooned onto the pineapple and cherry and off to be baked.
I undertook some amateur electrics during my cake mixing... my second hand Kenwood mixer has the original, well worn plug. When I switched it to on, nothing happened. Rinse, repeat. Out with the screwdriver and I discovered that one of the wires had worked loose, so I screwed it back into position. Except, in the UK we work with 240V and have three points on our plugs. One of those points goes to earth. And the eagle eyed electricians amongst you will spot that I wired the electrical current to the earth point. I managed to trip the power to the house not once, but three times, before I figured that I might need to check on my electrical prowess! I know, isn't it amazing that I am still here typing this never ending post. And yes, that is a corkscrew on the operating table... I trimmed the wire with it. Resourceful, if not inept.
The cake mix looked okay to me. Thick, vanilla-ey. I was imagining a golden open crumb, laced with caramel. Hmmm.
I think my disappointment started to build once I tipped them out of their pan. Where had my gorgeous caramel gone? Why didn't I wrap those caramels in waxed paper instead of losing them into the ether? Plus, the pineapple had shrunk and the rim of cake around the outside was not appealing to my aesthetic.
I had no apricot jam, and no inspiration for an alternative solution, so my cakes remained deeply unglazed and unglossy. So completely not like the picture in Rose's book. I made the pineapple caramel sauce to serve these with these cakes. I found the instruction a bit weird. The first bit was fine. Bring all the sugar and a portion of the pineapple juice to 150 degrees c. Fine. Then add in the remaining hot pineapple juice. Fine. Then boil for 5-10 minutes until the caramel reaches 60 degrees c. Um, not fine. This did not compute with me. The boiling point of this caramel was far above 60 degrees c. So I ignored that point and just boiled it until it was reduced enough. Not sure if anyone else had a different interpretation?
Boy, this is a marathon post. Apologies, I am nearly finished. I took these cakes along to a friend's place, and whilst they all said they liked the cake, I was disappointed. I couldn't taste the caramel, the crumb was dense and the pineapple caramel sauce was just too sweet for my tongue. All in all, I was a bit bored by this cake. Maybe I had built it up too much whilst I was delaying my caramel gratification?
Fortunately, the other upside down things in my life were far more exciting, definitely not dense and perfectly sweet. Who needs cake?
Until next week's perfect orange genoise, or "how to make butt clenchingly sour seville orange juice taste great (hopefully!)".