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In Loving Memory
ChefBilly celebrates the life of his late Mom with some favorites from her private collection known as “Cel’s Recipe Box.” “From the time I was a toddler, I saw Mom pull her aging, hand-written recipe cards from her little tin box and watched her work magic in the kitchen. What would the magic produce? A succulent casserole, sumptuous roast, scrumptious fried chicken? Perhaps my Mom and her secret cards would make the best magic of all, a spectacular dessert! Whatever the result, my family and I would benefit. Nothing expressed my Mother’s love like her cooking.
“Mom’s box contained mostly old family recipes handed down to her from her Mother, older sisters, and a few close friends. Some date as far back as the 1930s. Some reflect her Polish heritage, others the increasing modernization of the American kitchen. Though she spent a lifetime collecting, testing, and tasting recipes from books, newspapers and magazines, she usually returned to ‘The Box’ for the tried and true.
“The first recipe presented from Cel’s Recipe Box was her favorite of favorites, recipe of recipes, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. As other recipes follow, and the anecdotes that accompany them, I can think of few more pleasant tributes to my kind and loving Mother.”
Here it is, a recipe that has become legendary in my family, “the stuff dreams are made of.” For Mom, a slice of this cake, slightly warm, with a generous dollop of whipped cream, was about as close to heaven as one could get in this world. I think she was right!
This delicious recipe was handed down to my Mother from her older Sister, Helen, in the 1940s. It is traditionally made in a heavy, 8-inch, cast iron skillet, 2 inches deep, but I have successfully used round or square cake pans of similar dimensions. The main requirement is a pan that can be heated on the stovetop and then transferred to the oven. But Mom was very particular about her pan, and had an ancient, heavy metal version that had been perfectly conditioned after years of use for non-stick performance. When my Father borrowed it for his restaurant and lost it, it became the subject of some heated family “discussion” until he found a suitable replacement!
If you want to make sure the cake does not stick when you turn it out, do what I do and use a non-stick cake pan.
Amounts given are for an 8-inch cake pan or cast iron skillet and will produce a sweet, shallow cake. If you like a thick cake, make one and a half times the cake batter. Double the amounts for batter and topping for a large, 10-inch cake pan or skillet, using any extra dough to make two or three cupcakes.
1¼ cups sifted cake flour
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar (firmly packed when measured)
4 slices canned pineapple, drained
optional: maraschino cherries and walnut pieces for garnish
Sift flour once, measure, add the baking powder and salt, and sift together three times. (ChefBilly’s note: sifting the flour is not just to remove any lumps, but to aerate the flour mixture and give the cake a light texture.) Cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and continue creaming until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add flour alternately with milk, a little at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in an 8 x 8 x 2-inch cake pan or 8-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat. (Or, if doubling this recipe, use a 10-inch cake pan or skillet.) Add brown sugar and stir until melted. Off heat, arrange pineapple slices in attractive pattern over the sugar mixture, placing optional cherries in the center and around the sides of the pineapple slices, along with some walnut pieces, if desired.
Turn cake batter over the contents of pan. Bake in a moderate (350-degree F) oven 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. When almost cooled, loosen cake from the sides and bottom of the pan by tapping and running a sharp knife about the edge. Turn upside-down onto serving platter, with pineapple now on top.
Best served slightly warm with whipped cream, the cream whipped not too stiff. Wonderful as a dessert or coffee cake.
Substitute 12 cooked apricot halves for the pineapple, arrange the apricots cut-side up in the pan before baking.
Substitute canned, sliced apples for the pineapple, or fresh apple slices which have been sautéed until soft.
For a delicious, simple coffee cake, omit fruit and sprinkle chopped or whole pecan meats over the brown sugar before adding the cake batter, or bake the cake with sugar only. (ChefBilly’s note: the cake batter by itself is wonderful for frosted cakes or cupcakes, and is one of the tastiest coffee cake batters I know of.)
and Cecelia McDonald
Copyright © 2007 William Gordon McDonald