Pineapple Polenta Upside-Down Cake!

Recently I participated in a benefit auction for one of my favorite charities, the Children’s Heartlink. We auctioned off a “celebrity” chef bake-off to be held at General Mills test kitchen. Assembled were a team of my favorite pastry chefs in the Twin Cities as the coaches and some heavy hitting celebrity judges. Dr. Jim Rice bought the event and invited 20 of his friends to join him for a great evening. The pastry chef coaches came up with recipes, were allowed to talk the team through the process, but weren’t allowed to touch anything. My team was a blast, they had a great time and produced a gorgeous dessert, which got them second prize!

My friend and exquisite pastry chef, Michelle Gayer’s dessert won the gold! She is the chef/owner of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis (co-author of Charlie Trotter’s Desserts) and her dessert kicked A–! It was a pineapple polenta upside-down cake with caramelized macadamia nuts. I meant to ask her for the recipe, but she was off to Disney World with her family.  Well, great minds think alike and it turns out that Johnny Iuzzini has a dessert that is just like it in his new book Dessert FourPlay. While I wait to get Michelle’s recipe I decided to give Johnny’s a go. Two world class pastry chefs’ version of a classic!

Pineapple Polenta Cake by Johhny Iuzzini:

For the pineapple:

1/2 cup (100g) sugar

pinch coarse salt

1/4 ripe pineapple

For the cake:

4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, softened

7 tablespoons (85g) sugar

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1/3 cup (42g) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (45g) yellow cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

For Spiced Pineapple Sauce:

2 cups pineapple juice

1 ounce (28g) fresh ginger, cut into thin slices

1/3 cup (80g) brown sugar, packed

7 whole cloves (Johnny called for 15 and I wanted it to be a little more subtle)

1 cinnamon sticks (Johnny called for 2, but I have “red hot” cinnamon so I reduced the amount)

special equipment:

4 Small Flan Rings (3 1/4-inches) – I used my English Muffin Rings

Start by wrapping the flan rings with foil, bringing it up around the bottom and outside of the ring. See picture below. Place wrapped rings on a baking sheet.

To make the caramel, heat the sugar, coarse salt and 2 tablespoons of water in a sauce pan.

Cook over high heat and do not touch pan until the sugar starts to caramelize.

Once this happens you should remove from heat and swirl around in the pan. Once the sugar turns color it cooks very quickly and will burn if not removed from heat.

Spoon the caramel carefully into your prepared molds.

To prepare the pineapple, remove the peel, then quarter, cut out core and and eyes. Cut one of the quarters into 1/2 inch wide slices.

Cut those to fit into your molds, place over hardened caramel.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Prepare the batter for the cake:

Cream together the sugar and butter, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and yolks, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each.

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet mixture and mix at low speed until smooth, scrape the bowl as needed.

Divide the batter between the molds and smooth out with a small Spatula.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your molds. They should be light golden in color and set when tested with a toothpick.

Remove from oven and immediately run a knife around the inside edge of the ring. Invert quickly onto the plate or the caramel will reset and stick to the foil.

I served it with the spiced sauce and a pineapple sorbet! (The sauce is so simple, just put all of the ingredients in a sauce pot and simmer until it is the thickness of maple syrup. this takes about an hour. Strain, cool and drizzle!) The spice was a wonderful compliment to the sweetness of the caramel and pineapple. I love the addition of the cornmeal as well. It gives the cake more body and flavor than the pineapple upside down cake of my past!

Here are the pastry chefs and judges from the Children’s Heartlink event:

(Back row: Kevin Ryan (Betty Crocker Why It Works), Khanh Tran (pastry chef at Cosmos), Moi, Belinda Jensen (Kare11 news), Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods). Front row: Rita (Michelle Gayer’s pastry sous chef from the Salty Tart), Marjorie Johnson (The Road to Blue Ribbon Baking) and Sue Zelickson the diva of the culinary world in Minneapolis!

Here is my awesome team “Better than Hospital food!” Yes, they are a bunch of Doctors and budding pastry chefs! We made a version of this pudding, but added a layer of bittersweet ganache!

Now I fly off to VEGAS with my friend Jen. I have a list of restaurants and pastry shops that is going to keep us quite busy and very happy. When I return I will try to get Michelle’s recipe!