Classic Southern Cast-Iron Skillet Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe
Granny's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
There are times when you take a classic and give it an "update" or "modern" twist, and there are times when you keep your hands off and do it the way it was meant to be done. The latter is absolutely the case with my Granny's pineapple upside-down cake. This is the real deal: Southern to the core, baked in a cast-iron skillet, and made from scratch. The really cool thing? It's simple—there just isn't much to mess up.
This is the way this cake has been made in my family for at least five generations—it was my great-grandmother Frankie's way, and it's how I'm teaching my children to make it. I LOVE having that kind of connection between generations. I use it to tell my kids stories about these beautiful women that they never met; I believe the stories help keep the love they passed on moving on down the line.
I've seen recipes using cake pans, or fresh pineapple and cherries, or a much more delicate cake—and I think it's all extraneous. I've done them that way, and the recipes are good, but not this good. Everything about this homey, country Southern dessert is just right. A wonderful crumb on a rich yellow cake, a caramel layer on top with the fruit, and true ease of preparation. So do it Granny's way. Period.
- 6 slices of canned or fresh pineapple
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup pecan halves
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 generous pinch table salt (I like it to bake with because it distributes more evenly through the batter)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 6 maraschino cherries, drained
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Over low heat, melt butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle in the brown sugar, whisking to combine well. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the rest of the butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Add eggs one at a time and mix just until incorporated.
- Alternating in three batches, starting with the buttermilk, add the buttermilk and flour mixture. For more information, check out the video. Mix just until each addition is fully incorporated, and scrape the sides of the bowl often.
- In the cooled sugar mixture in the skillet, arrange pineapple in a pretty pattern. Place a cherry in the middle of each pineapple slice, and arrange the pecan halves between pineapple slices.
- Gently spoon the batter over the top of the pineapple slices in the cast iron skillet.
- Bake for about 25 to 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- Allow the skillet to cool for just about 5 minutes, then immediately invert onto a serving platter. If you lose a slice or two of pineapple, just pop it back in place. Again, I show this in the video below.
Part 1: Prepare the Batter
Part 2: Prepare the Skillet, Bake, and Flip!
Variations on Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, then first, bless your heart. Second, go get one. But if you can't get your hands on one, you can use other pans to bake your pineapple upside-down cake. Matter of fact, my friends Patti and Tina make one for me for my birthday almost every year (it's my favorite), and it's almost always been baked in a casserole dish.
Use a loaf pan or a casserole dish if you wish. You can even use regular cake pans if you want to. I just like the cast-iron version because Granny did it that way. And I always say, if your Granny (or Nana, or Abuela, or Mashuski) did it one way, then whatever it is, that's the perfect way to do it.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Traditions
Folks have been making cakes upside down for centuries—ever since the invention of the cast-iron skillet. It was one of the few cooking implements most people had—far before specialized cake pans were made, or became available.
It was simple for earlier cooks to create a syrup in the bottom of a cast-iron skillet. The cast iron distributed heat evenly, allowing butter and sugar in the bottom of the skillet to caramelize underneath a cake batter.
Pineapple upside-down cake premiered not long after inventor James Dole started putting out perfectly cut pineapple rings, after making the machine that produced perfect cuts. Mr. Dole produced his machine in 1911, and not long after cooks were combining the beautifully cut, exotic pineapple into a myriad of dishes. Canning made them less expensive and available, and along with maraschino cherries, a classic was born. The first printed recipe and photograph appeared in 1925—right about time for my great-grandmother to start making them.
© 2010 Jan Charles