Pineapple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

Polenta Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Heating sugar, salt and corn syrup for caramel | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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

Heating sugar, salt and corn syrup for caramel | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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

Heating sugar, salt and corn syrup for caramel | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Molds for polenta pineapple upside-down cake | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Spoon the caramel carefully into your prepared molds.

Slicing pineapple | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Polenta Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Polenta Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Polenta Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Polenta Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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!

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32 thoughts to “Pineapple Polenta Upside-Down Cake”

  1. Oh My….pineapple upside down cake…my family never wants to hear that ever again…I wrote a blog about it last year..When I was in high school I won the “Home Econmics Student of the Year” award by baking this cake in a contest….I got a trophy from Crisco too!! what they didn’t know was that I made it using a box of Jiffy Cake Mix….doctored up ofcourse…

  2. Oh wow! This is definitely a cake from my past — the first cake I ever learned to bake and to this day still my dad’s more requested baked good from me 🙂 It has a special place in my heart 🙂 This version with the cornmeal sounds awesome! I can taste in my mind how good that would be! Goes without saying that I am bookmarking this recipe post haste!

  3. LOVE pineapple upside down cake — and the addition of cornmeal sounds wonderful! I love that everyone gets his/her own too 🙂

  4. Not only does this look like a tasty turn on a sometimes kitschy recipe, but they’re also freakin’ adorable! And, enjoyed in such good company. Well done!

  5. Looks fabulous! As a true lover of both cake and kitsch, I have the NordicWare pan that makes individual upside down cakes. This might be hard to resist!

  6. Pineapple upside down cake was the my mom’s biggest baking fail and shook her confidence- which I’ve been trying to mend ever since. This might be the recipe to do it!
    Bought your book and made my first loaf (ever) today. It came out perfectly and I am so excited! Thank you, thank you for writing that book!

  7. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the lovely notes! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I’ve been in Vegas! 🙂

    Hi Euripide,

    So sorry for that omission, especially because I tested the baking time twice. His instructions said something that just didn’t pan out for me. I’ve corrected my post and I hope your cakes came out well!



  8. Hi Zoe,

    I don’t have individual cake moulds & my oven is a basic model round one..may I use a 9” cake pan or an 8” pan or a 7 cup loaf pan?

    Will it work? Would love to try this recipe out, thanks.

  9. Hi Sharon,

    Absolutely, You can bake it in either pan. Just keep an eye on it when baking to make sure you don’t over bake. I’d say to test it after about 15 minutes. It may require more time if it ends up being thicker.

    Enjoy! Zoë

  10. Dear Zoe,

    Thanks a bunch for responding, it got me sooo excited!!!

    Just one more doubt, we don’t get to buy yellow cornmeal where I live..will normal cornmeal/cornflour do? Will it tamper with the flavor? Thanks.

  11. Zoe – thanks for sharing the recipe. A few years ago I stopped at hole in the wall BBQ place that served a pineapple upside-down cake made with a pumpkin polenta base. It was amazingly moist and tasty. Alas they had a fire and went out of business before I could get a copy of the recipe. I’ve been trying to recreate it for some time and this recipe has inspired me to try again.

  12. I found your site by Googling “Pineapple Polenta Upside Down cake”… Great blog..
    We used to have this desert when i was in English boarding school… very filling and fattening to keep us all comatose and full I suspect… but i still have a great love of that pudding so thought i’d make something along the same lines for a ‘bring a plate to share’ party I am going to tomorrow.
    The thing is cooked some amaranth yesterday and it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from how I have used it in the past so thought I could add it to a batter with my pineapple instead of polenta… I’m sure it will turn out great using your guidelines…. I’ll let you know.
    The amaranth is already cooked but with the addition of butter, sugar, eggs and flour will no doubt do what the polenta does in your recipe.

    Finger crossed.

    I’m a blogger myself so I know what a great blog should look and feel like and yours gets an A+…

  13. You know what.. it turned out AMAZINGLY well… I made a little one to have for dinner tonight with a friend and we ate it warm with ice-cream and then the larger one is for tomorrow…. I had to improvise and do it by guesswork and eyeball of course as there were no weights for the already cooked amaranth.. but I used your recipe as a guideline and just took a jump into the unknown figuring that that is after all how all recipes are born…!!

    great to meet you.. did I say I love your blog.. I am in Australia so your name is not well known to me but I have heard of Andrew Zimmern so you must have some kudos!!

    Many thanks for answering so promptly… good to see that other people monitor their blogs AND respond to interaction!

    1. Hi Sandhan,

      Oh great, thanks for letting me know. I am anxious to give it a try as well.

      It is great to meet you too, I look forward to visiting your blog to see what you are cooking! Zoë

  14. Oh… I am ‘cooking up’ life transformations!! I am a life coach not a chef or cook except in my alter ego!! I used to work in the restaurant trade many years ago… I just love food!

    The cake was a huge success at the bring a plate party too so thanks for showing me the way by following your guidelines.. we ate it with some cookies and cream ice cream MMM mmmm!!

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