Like Proust’s Madeleine

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This is the elusive taste of my past.  Thirty years ago this cake was lost to me, the little handwritten recipe for my favorite childhood treat disappearing with the detritus of a relationship gone wrong, after a hasty packing and moving out day that left my entire adulthood thereafter cakeless.  Well, not entirely cakeless, but this one cake, the only cake that I could never reproduce, the cake my mother made for me on any good occasion, one of the first things I learned to bake as a girl, this was the forbidden fruit.  I dreamed about this cake, which remained vivid in my memory with the passage of time.  I never accepted its loss.

Over the years I tried every conceivable recipe I came across, sure in advance that no other pineapple upside-down cake could rival my vanished favorite.   And there were good cakes, and not so good cakes, but all were poor relatives of my cake of treasured memory.  By now I imagine that you’re waiting for me to unleash a barrage of exquisite adjectives upon you, extolling the wonders conjured by my cake dreams.  But no.  I’m not going to describe the peculiarly compelling deliciousness of this cake for you.  I want you to discover it for yourself.  Because yes, thanks to a new Facebook friend who offered me the original recipe, and my recollection of my mother’s little tweaks and improvements, the one true cake has returned to take its rightful place on my table.  And on yours.

Lost and Found Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

1/2 cup  butter
2  cups  firmly packed brown sugar
1  cup  whole pecans, or more
1  20 oz can  pineapple slices, drained, reserving 5 tablespoons juice
3  eggs, separated
1  cup  sugar
1  cup  all-purpose flour
1  teaspoon  baking powder
1/2  teaspoon  salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt the butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet.  Add the brown sugar, stir well to thoroughly combine, then turn off the heat — don’t cook it.   Arrange  pineapple slices in a single layer over the brown sugar mixture and arrange the pecans decoratively in every little space where there’s room for a nut.  Set the skillet aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Beat the egg yolks in an electric mixer at medium speed until they are thick and lemon colored. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat.  Turn mixer to low speed, and add the flour mixture to the yolk mixturealternately with the reserved pineapple juice.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites gently into the cake batter. Pour the batter evenly over the pineapple slices.

Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the skillet for 30 minutes; then invert it onto a serving plate.

Guard the recipe with your life.  Teach your children to bake it.  If  life gets messy and you have to leave in a hurry, tuck this recipe in your pocket.  Have some for breakfast.  Forget those madeleines and eat your cake.

Explore posts in the same categories: French Letters Visits America, Posts Containing Recipes

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12 Comments on “Like Proust’s Madeleine”

  1. My mother also made pineapple upside down cake. It was a family favorite. Haven’t had it in YEARS. I’m going to put this on the list to make for Father’s Day/My Mother’s Bday.

  2. zuleme Says:

    ooh, I bet I can handle it. I have a six minute chocolate cake I can whip up when needed. I’ll make this one for sure, it will be a nice addition to my recipe box.

  3. Rona Y Says:

    The cake part of your recipe is the same as what I use, too, and I love it! Once I started baking for myself, I could never find a pineapple upside-down cake recipe that was like what I remembered from my childhood. They were always too dense or too coarse, or just too something. Then my mother revealed that the recipe she used was more like a chiffon cake, and that was all I needed to know! Did your kind Facebook friend reveal the origins of the recipe? The person I got it from said it came with a special pineapple upside-down cake pan available decades ago, but I’m wondering if there was another source.

  4. Gayle Says:

    Yum! My mouth is watering. Can’t wait to make this for my parents this summer. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Debra Says:

    This was the first cake I learned how to make and have fond memories of it even though I’m pretty sure my mom put marichino fake cherries in the middle of those pineapple rings. I am going to make this recipe for my family!

  6. Abra Bennett Says:

    Rona – I don’t know the origin, although it’s somewhere back in the 1950’s, that’s for sure. Since you absolutely have to make it in a cast iron skillet I’m pretty sure it didn’t come as a recipe with a pan.

    I can’t wait to hear what those of you who make it think about it. Is it only me, or is it the best ever? You tell me.

  7. Eden Says:

    I am scouring my calendar for an excuse to make this!
    I like the pecan option. I can’t stand industrial maraschinos, so I usually use brandied cherries that I’ve put up myself.

  8. Nan Says:

    Ahh memories…not many recipes call for using the juice in the batter and I think that’s the secret. I always used one from the Good Housekeeping cookbook circa 1961 and it uses juice in the batter. Makes it very special. I’m glad you’re home and that you found your cake recipe. Great picture, looks good enough to eat!

  9. Upside Down pineapple cake is always a favorite here in Virginia, I almost always make it when other fruits are not in season for pot luck, and it ALWAYS goes. There is never any to bring back home. (

    I do like your version with pecans.

  10. Abra Bennett Says:

    Wow Sylvie, cake for 150! That’s a massive undertaking. I’ll be very curious to see what you think if you try “my ” recipe, as the pecans aren’t the only difference between our versions.

  11. Eden Says:

    I finally got an opportunity to make this, and I have to agree that the flavor is wonderful, but I wonder if the fact that I dont have a traditional electric mixer affected the batter, because my cake was fairly thin & as a result the proporiton of cake to brown sugar/pineapple glaze was a bit too low, leaving it on the sweet side even for a pineapple upside down cake.

  12. Abra Bennett Says:

    You really don’t need a mixer, but the last time I made it I did reduce the brown sugar to 1 1/2 cups and my adult self liked it better.

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