Pineapple, and why we don’t make “Pineapple Right Side Up Cake”

2023 April 16

We have a couple of pineapple plants that we have been growing in pots for some time. These were both started the traditional way, by cutting the top off of a pineapple fruit, cutting away the extra flesh to expose the little “air roots”, stripping off the bottom one inch or so of leaves, and sticking it in a pot. As you can see, they eventually get pretty big. The larger one we have had for about 5 years, and the smaller one for about 3.

Anyway, back on April First, I was giving them their weekly watering, and I happened to notice that the bigger one had actually started to produce a flower bud! This was pretty exciting, because we had about resigned ourself to never seeing it bloom. Here is the bud as of today (April 16, 2023):

The bud is currently slightly smaller than a tennis ball. It will be interesting to see how big it gets. I expect that it will be a bit stunted from being in a pot, but we will see just how much.

Anyway, from what I have read about pineapples, it takes a while for the bud to start properly blooming, and the blooms start opening at the bottom and then work their way to the top over a period of about two weeks. The fruit is supposed to mature even if the flowers aren’t pollinated. The entire fruit maturation process takes months, so I don’t expect this to be ready to eat until maybe Christmas. I’ll keep taking pictures, and there will probably be a followup posting in a few months.

While we wait, all this talk of pineapples lead to a desire for a Pineapple Upside-Down cake. And in the preparations for this, we got to talking about why it is always an “upside-down cake”. Why not a “Pineapple Right-Side-Up cake”? Well, the obvious way to find out is to go ahead and make it both ways, and see what (if anything) goes wrong with it if we just kind of float the pineapple slices on top.

So, Sandy went ahead and prepped up two pans, with the butter/sugar mixture on the bottom of each as per the recipe.

One of them got the pineapple slices added next, followed by cherries:

She then added yellow cake batter to both pans

Then, the second pan was assembled with the pineapple slices and cherries floating on top:

And we are ready for the oven.

After baking 10 minutes, we can start to see what the issue is.

While the upside-down cake (USDC) doesn’t look unusual, we can see that the right-side-up cake (RSUC) is getting a bit funky. A lot of the cherries have sunk, and the pineapple slices are looking like they would like to sink as well. The only thing keeping them up, is that they are spaced so close together that it takes time for the batter to ooze past them.

And after about 30 minutes, this is what comes out of the oven. The USDC looks OK, with a nice surface,

but the RSUC looks kind of, well, not so great. At least half of the cherries have sunk, and the pineapple was working on sinking, too. This is not a very sightly cake.

While we could leave the RSUC in the pan and just cut it out that way, it is more convenient to cut up a cake if it is removed from the pan. And here was the next problem- it didn’t come out of the pan all that cleanly.

We can see that the cherries not only sank, they sank clear to the bottom. We were able to scrape most of the stuff out the pan and patch up the cake, but it still didn’t look all that great.

In contrast, the traditional USDC popped out of the pan nice and clean, and it looks neat and attractive.

There is really no comparison as to which one you would want to show off in public, and which one you would keep at home to snarfle down in private.

So, that answers that question. Pineapple upside-down cakes are made that way not because of the fruit slices burning, or because they shield the batter from the heat and keep it from cooking, or because pineapples do something weird if you bake them, or any of the other things people have suggested. It is just that pineapple slices (and maraschino cherries) are quite dense, and once the cake batter heats up and starts to rise, it is neither dense enough nor viscous enough to keep the fruit on the surface.

And since the fruit wants to be on the bottom anyway, we might as well put it there from the start and just roll with it.

2 Responses
  1. April 17, 2023

    Our pineapple plant (originally the crown of a pineapple like yours) produced a pineapple a couple years ago. It was a proud moment! Took about 3 months from initial flower, till when we harvested. Fall was approaching, and I figured it wouldn’t get much bigger as temperatures dropped, so harvesttime it was. Baby pineapples are so darn cute too.

  2. Anne Bingham permalink
    April 18, 2023

    Also, the upside-down way means the brown sugar/melted butter/pineapple juice at the bottom forms the most delicious crust on the edges, especially if you’re baking in a round glass baking dish!

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