Like Proust’s Madeleine
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.