My grandmother turned 88 on September 2nd. Accustomed as I am to giving my grandparents food presents, I asked her what kind of cake she'd like me to whip up for her.
"Something with icing," she said. Grandma is good at specifics. "Oh, and not too big."
"What about a few cupcakes?" I asked.
"How many cupcakes?"
"I dunno. Maybe ten?"
She recoiled in horror. "Ten is far too many."
You see why I made her a full-size, two-layer monstrosity.
Okay, I don't see it either.
If you're after the truth, I mostly wanted an excuse to make this delectable-sounding cake from Joyce White's BROWN SUGAR, which is and shall remain my favourite baker's cookbook. Grandma and I used to eat pineapple together when I was tiny, so I was reasonably sure she'd enjoy the flavour. And I relished the thought of baking something entirely new.
Holy crap, was it ever good! Labour intensive, but beyond delicious. It wasn't entirely smooth sailing as my pineapple icing never became thick enough to spread, but I salvaged the situation by using it as a filling/topping and edging the cake in vanilla wafers--another of Grandma's favourites. (I'd have preferred ladyfingers, but I baked it over Labour Day and had to make do with what I could get at Shoppers Drug Mart as all the grocery stores were closed.) Now I have no choice but to share the recipe with y'all, warts and all.
If you like pineapple, you're gonna go crazy over this icing. Promise.
- 1 20z/550g tin of unsweetened pineapple
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar, separate from the above measurement
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half or heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cubed
- enough vanilla wafers or ladyfingers to cover the cake's circumference (optional)
Fruit and Nut Ingredients:
- 1 cup dried fruits. I used equal quantities of cranberries and raisins, but you can go with pretty well anything.
- 1/4 cup rum
- 2/3 cup pecans (optional; I left them out as Grandma dislikes nuts)
Really, you can use any three-layer yellow- or white-cake recipe. The icing would probably even go well with chocolate. If you want to stick to Joyce White's method, though, you'll need
- 3 cups cake flour
- 2 1/2 tsps baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/5 tsps vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
You'll want to take care of your fruit before you do anything else so the flavours have plenty of time to mingle.
Place whatever fruit you're using in a small or medium pot. Add the rum and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil for thirty seconds or so, then remove it from the heat and cover it. The liquor will soak into the fruit all on its own.
Once the fruit has absorbed all the liquor and is cool, give the nuts a course chop and add them to the pot.
If you're not able to use alcohol, I imagine a simple syrup glaze would do nicely.
Depending on which cake recipe you use, you can probably start the icing slightly before the cakes go in the oven and continue the process while they bake.
First, combine the undrained crushed pineapple and the 1/2 cup of sugar in a medium pot. Bring them to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to medium-low and keep on cooking them for twenty-five to thirty minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the pineapple is syrupy. Give the mixture an occasional stir during this time so you can gauge how it's getting on. My pineapple took more like thirty-five minutes to reach the desired consistency.
In another pot, combine the milk, cream, remaining sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook the mixture until it's thick and syrupy. This should take fifteen to twenty minutes.
Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and give them a brisk beating. Whisk a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into them, then add about one cup more of the stuff, whisking constantly.
Add the egg yolk mixture to the main pan, whisking constantly, and continue to cook it for about five minutes longer. Keep a close eye on it lest the eggs scramble, and never stop whisking.
When the five minutes are up, strain the icing into a large bowl. Beat in the butter, then stir in the reserved pineapple.
Ideally, the icing should be thick enough to spread. This wasn't the case with mine, perhaps because I used half-and-half instead of heavy cream. (Oh, frugality. You do tend to bite me.) If yours is a little thin, too, you can chill it in the fridge for several hours or set the bowl in an ice water bath. Neither method worked with my icing, but you may have better luck.
If you're using the above cake recipe, start by preheating your oven to 350ºF/175ºC. Butter and flour three 8-inch round cake pans. Past experience has taught me cooking spray isn't very effective with White's recipes, so make sure you use butter and flour instead.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and set them aside.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer for preference or any enormous bowl if you don't have one. With the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, beat the mixture on medium-high for three to five minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating for about thirty seconds after each addition, then beat in the vanilla extract.
Reduce the speed to low and alternate between adding the flour and the milk, ending with the flour. Beat the mixture for another thirty seconds.
Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Place the pans in a triangular pattern on the oven's middle rack.
Bake the cake layers for twenty minutes, then quickly switch the pans around so the two that were near the front are now near the back, or vice versa. Bake them for another five to seven minutes, or until a tester inserted into the centre of any one of them comes out clean.
Remove the cakes from the oven and cool them in the pans for about ten minutes before you turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely. You'll probably need to run a knife or a metal spatula around the edges to loosen them up before you tip them out.
If you use this cake recipe, do not store the finished product in the refrigerator. I'm serious. It'll still be edible, but it'll lose most, if not all, of its moist deliciousness.
Assembling the Cake:
As you can see, I used two layers rather than the standard three. Grandma did ask for a smaller cake, you know. The directions are basically the same in either case; just repeat the steps once more if you take the three-layer route.
Set aside about 1/3 cup of the fruit filling to use as a topping.
Place one cake layer top side down on your favourite serving plate. Spread it with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pineapple icing, then sprinkle it with about half the remaining fruit mixture.
Place the second layer on top of it, top side up, and repeat the icing steps.
If you're using a third layer, place it bottom side up atop the second layer. If you're not, place it on its own plate, any way up you please. It makes a tasty single-layer cake when topped with your leftover icing.
Spread the finished icing all over the cake, or edge it with the cookies. Place the reserved fruit filling on top, either as an edging (White's suggestion) or all over (what I did).
Voila! Pineapple cake!