project 52: recipe #3 –> mini pineapple upside-down cakes

In my last post, I talked about trying to work my way through a verbal confrontation between a father and daughter character in my latest attempt at a young adult novel.  While I found some time to commit to finally writing it down last night, the scene turned out stale and anti-climactic and not at all what I had hoped it could become.  I’ve spent the last week meticulously working out the details of the scene in my head, (all while strangely battling to remove “For Good” from the Wicked soundtrack from replaying over and over) figuring out what must happen and where the scene must take place in order to give Olivia the opportunity to confront her father.  Working up to a fight scene, even a non-violent one, is tricky, because you want to give the reader the satisfaction of watching the train wreck actually happen without having the two engines putter to a stop before colliding.

Most of the time when I write, I hardly do so chronologically, so in this case, I know where Olivia’s anger must lead her–to the point where she must decide how to betray her family (especially her father) in light of the dark family secret she discovers.  What’s fueled my hesitation, I think, is when I read an article about parents in young adult novels (and I apologize for not crediting whoever sent me the link–feel free to comment that it was you) and how in order to allow the young adult protagonist to steer her own story, parents must step aside, stay out of the picture, even die.  While I see the point and the success rate of stories following this pattern (Harry Potter especially), I also see the value of those stories which reflect on the dynamics of the family structure, and the strengths and weaknesses of each member within this structure.  If anyone can recommend a good YA book to help me with this, chime in.

First, let me say this:  anything that has the words “upside down” in the title should be considered just as difficult as doing anything else upside-down.  Like driving a car.  And you’re probably thinking, “who would want to drive a car upside-down?” and my response would be “my point exactly.”

I debated between two recipes this week:  a mocha something-or-other chocolately dessert with chocolate-covered coffee beans.  Oh, delicious Choxie beans, I have not forgotten you.  But since I made tiramisu recently, I thought I’d try something fruity.

The recipe from the Taste of Home magazine actually showed mini cakes, which is what I prefer, actually.  Most of the time, I share my desserts with co-workers, and I’m not exactly a fan of having to determine what size slices to make, etc.  I’ll also admit that until semi-recently, I didn’t care for pineapple, and the two worst possible flavors anyone could combine was pineapple and coconut.  I am also not a fan of the “If you like piña coladas” song, and I think getting caught in the rain is anything but fun.  Stupid song.

I’ve also been watching a lot of cooking shows lately.  Hubby turns them on and says that I should be watching them–but whether it’s because he thinks I would enjoy them or should watch them to become a better cook, I don’t know.  After watching Paula Deen double-dip her finger in the cake batter repeatedly, he decided I shouldn’t take any pointers from her.  We also found a Worst Cooks in America show, which I think I could do rather well on, if the point of the show is to be showcased as the worst.  We also watched a cupcake challenge show, and I loved how one contestant group piped swirls of chocolate on waxed paper, froze it, and chipped it into pieces to become the centerpieces of each mini-cake.  MUST try.  Apparently, I also must try cooking something other than sweets.  There’s a strong possibility I will cook a quiche either this week or next.

Part of what, for me, determines my willingness to try a recipe is the amount of dishes it requires me to dirty throughout the process.  Is this the case for anyone else, or am I just lazy?  So, in case you’re wondering, for this whole process, it required a large bowl, a smaller bowl, another small bowl, a plate for cutting up the cherries (I suppose I could have bought them already halved), a knife, a strainer, a measuring cup, blender thingies, a spoon, and of course, the pan, itself–so really, this recipe wasn’t all that bad.  The worst part was the baking pan.  I bought a mini-bundt pan around Halloween because one of the recipes I found online showed adorable little pumpkins made from mini-bundts.  The attempt was nearly a total disaster.  Despite greasing the pan, the cake stuck to the pan and nearly ripped every cake to pieces on the way out.  For some reason, I thought this time would be different since it was a different cake mix and a different day.  Also, since the recipe promised a yield of 24 cakes, I had to thoroughly wash the pan twice to get through the whole recipe.  In the end, I placed cupcake liners in a second pan, because I was able to squeeze out nine more cakes than the recipe promised, and while those didn’t have the cute little ridges, the cakes effortlessly came out of the wrappers and I didn’t have to scrub the pan half as much.  But this is a learning experience as much as anything else, and I expect mistakes, many of them, to happen throughout my 52 weeks of recipe bootcamp.

On with the recipe!!

This recipe called for:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup canola oil (I didn’t have any so I used regular vegetable–and I checked online, it’s okay to do that)
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 can of pineapple “tidbits” (and yes, they’re really called this–it’s a cross between the chunks and crushed)
  • halved maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350.

You start by melting the butter in a bowl and adding the brown sugar.  It will create a thick, paste-like consistency, but actually I was a little disappointed that most of the brown sugar stayed behind in the pan or the cupcake liners.  I couldn’t say if this was because there was too much or too little brown sugar–I followed the recipe, as always, so maybe it’s supposed to be like that.

Strain the pineapple tidbits but save the juice.  I strained it directly into the bowl with the cake mix to save a dish.  Put the pineapple tidbits in a separate dish.

I found myself a little hesitant at the next step.  The recipe calls for three eggs to be added to the cake mix, plus 1/3 cup oil.  While this sounds similar to most cake recipes, it isn’t what it said to do on the box.  Still, I followed the recipe and it all turned out fine in the end.  You all know what happened the time I didn’t follow the recipe.  Also add the strained pineapple juice if you haven’t already into the batter.  Mix the batter until fully blended.

Grease the pan or insert cupcake liners.  Now that I’ve cooked the recipe both ways, I see no reason to fight with the bundt cakes since the regular cupcake pans with liners works just as well.

Drop a spoonful of the brown sugar / butter mixture into the center of each cupcake spot.  Press a cherry (sliced side down) into the brown sugar, then arrange pineapple tidbits around the cherry.  The recipe actually said to “arrange” as if it actually mattered which way the pineapples sat in the pan–it’s not that deep.  Just drop a small amount, maybe 5-6 tidbits, into the pan.

Fill the remainder of the cups 3/4 full with the cake batter.  This is also where it got tricky.  By the time I added the brown sugar, cherry, and pineapples, the cups were almost half full already.  What I ended up with was cakes with ridiculous muffin tops–literally–but they still sat relatively upright in the box.  This might be how I ended up with enough leftover batter to do nine extra cakes.

Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes.  Mine were DONE at 17.

The instructions then said to invert immediately and set on wire racks to cool.  When I inverted the pan, nothing happened, so I had to use toothpicks to coax each cake out of its spot.  This is why I recommend using the liners–much less messy.  I burned the tip of my thumb not on the pan but on the cake, itself, when trying to get it out.  For the ones in the cupcake liners, as I was pulling them out by the paper, they literally fell right out of the wrappers.  The image below is from one of those cakes.  An extra nine cakes gave me thirty-three total, in other words one extra to sample before I share with others.  It was magical and delicious, despite the pineapple, but the pineapple juice in the batter was hardly noticeable.  I loved the crunchy brown-sugar on top, though I assume it will be a little more crunchy and a little less gooey when it cools.

Who will try them:  my eLearning colleagues

Their responses:  TBA

Happy baking!




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