Pineapple Upside Down Cake

In honor of the return of Mad Men, (Oh, Don Draper, how I have missed you!) I decided to serve up a 1960’s inspired dinner.

First up, the quintessential pineapple & brown sugar bejeweled ham —

Look familiar?

And for dessert — well that was easy.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake was my mom’s go-to dessert.  I remember it gracing the table of many a family dinner or bake sale booth.   So I thought I’d ask if she’d share the recipe.  She, of course, was delighted.  I hurriedly grabbed pen and paper and prepared to discover the secret to this peculiar American dessert.

“Okay, ” my mom started, “first spread butter and brown sugar in a baking pan.  Arrange the pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and pecans on top.”

So far so good.  And then —

“Open a box of yellow cake mix . . . ”

I put down my pen.  Clearly this wasn’t going to work.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  Her generation embraced the new new fad of box mixes and tv dinners that many of us are now starting to shun.  Last year, I read Jerry Della Femina’s tale of the advertising trenches From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor.  As a copywriter myself, I’m intrigued by the whole Mad Men, three martini lunch era of advertising.  One of my favorite anecdotes concerned the early marketing of boxed cake mixes.  Initially, all you had to do was add water.  Housewives in focus groups hated the product, not because of the taste, but because it was so easy — they didn’t feel like they were cooking.  The solution?  Add water and an egg.  For some reason, the act of cracking an egg into the mix gave the women a sense of validation that they were cooking.  Cake mixes began to fly off the shelves.

Fascinating, huh?  But it still didn’t solve my dessert dilemma.  I could Google, but that seemed too easy.  And how would I know I could trust the recipe I found?  Out of curiosity, I turned to my beloved Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  And there, on page 310 — Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  Thomas Keller-style.  Score.  (I will share my undying love for Mr. Keller in another post.  For now, let’s just say that he’s my Tebow.)

This recipe did not disappoint.  A moist, light cake and fresh pineapple carmelized with brown sugar and flecks of vanilla.  It really is an elegant take on this rather iconic dessert.  If all you’ve had is the canned pineapple variety of this cake, do yourself a favor and try the Ad Hoc recipe.   It’s easy, delicious, and looks beautiful when unmolded from the cake pan.  Still not sure?  Did I mention there’s rum in it?  Thought that would change your mind.  You can find the recipe here.

If Betty had made this cake, Don might have come home from work more often.  Okay, maybe if she made this cake and wasn’t such a b*tch.

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