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Thomas Keller's Pineapple Upside Down Cake


I'm a big admirer of Thomas Keller and everything that he has created.  He is so innovative and amazing so I think it's funny that one of his favorite desserts is a good old fashioned pineapple upside down cake.  Of course, his version uses a fresh pineapple and dark rum but it's still a great classic dessert.  You can also use almost any other kind of fruit in this recipe instead of pineapple.

The recipe starts out with making what he calls a "pan schmear" - a combination of brown sugar and butter with other flavorings - that is spread on the bottom of the pan.  The recipe will make more than you need, but it's difficult to make a small amount.  So you can either use it within a couple of weeks, freeze it for a later time or make two desserts.  In my version I used a little more than he called for and froze the rest. 



The recipe calls for 1½ tablespoons of honey and if you're like me, I find it difficult to measure honey with a regular measuring spoon.  That's why I like using this mini adjustable measuring cup. I already have a two-cup Wonder Cup version, which a lot of people have for measuring sticky things like peanut butter and honey.  These items are great for measuring brown sugar, catsup, etc.  Believe me, they make the jobs a lot easier. 

In his recipe, he highly recommends using vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract. I used vanilla paste because I love the stuff.  I get it from Beanilla, where I also get my awesome vanilla beans.  If you don't have vanilla paste, go ahead and use extract but think about buying some - the stuff is seriously good.

Keller also recommends using a silicone cake pan but I don't use those so I just used a good nonstick 9" cake pan. I sprayed it with Pam and the cake came right out. 

This cake is best served warm and is delicious with a cup of coffee.


Thomas Keller's Pineapple Upside Down Cake

for a printable recipe click here

serves 8

Although vanilla extract works in this recipe, Keller prefers vanilla paste instead. Also, this recipe makes more "pan schmear" than needed, but it's difficult to make less. The remainder can keep in the refrigerator for several weeks or it can be frozen. Soften to room temperature before using. 

Be sure to sift your cake flour after measuring - it makes it nice and even


Pan Schmear

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon dark rum
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
  • kosher salt


  • 1 Gold (extra sweet) pineapple
  • 1⅓ cups cake flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk (the batter was so thick I added a little more milk than this so I could spread it)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Make the pan schmear:  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or better yet, a Beater Blade paddle), combine the butter, honey, rum, brown sugar and vanilla.  Beat until smooth and well blended.

Spread ⅓ cup (I used ½ cup) of the mixture over the bottom of a 9-inch silicone cake pan (I used a regular 9-inch cake pan and sprayed it with Pam). Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Cut the top and bottom from the pineapple, and cut away the skin. Cut the pineapple lengthwise into quarters and cut the core from each section. Cut each piece crosswise into eighth inch slices. Beginning at the perimeter of the pan, make an overlapping ring of pineapple slices, curved sides facing out. Make a second ring inside the first one, overlapping the slices in the opposite direction, working toward the center. Reserve any remaining pineapple for other uses. 


Sift the flour and baking powder together; set aside. 

To make the batter: Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar on low speed to combine. Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Mix in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before mixing in the second one. Scrape down the sides as needed. Beat in the milk. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating just until combined. 

Pour the batter in the pan and spread over the pineapple. 

Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan a half-turn for even browning and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry. Cool the cake, in the pan, on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes. 

Run a knife around the edges of the cake and invert on a serving platter. Serve warm. Leftover cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.  

** Serve this with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or caramel sauce for added wow!

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Reader Comments (6)

This sounds like a great Easter dessert. Fresh pineapple has improved over the years. I have never baked with it but anticipating a lighter result perfect for spring.
Whipped cream and fresh pineapple garnish will make an appealing presentation.

March 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMickey

You always do a wonderful job with your directions and tips. I love the use of fresh pineapple for this cake. I am also a huge fan of vanilla bean paste. I have always used Nielson-Massey brand. It comes in a jar and stores well. But, thank you for providing another tried and true option. I will be making this cake soon!

March 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Looks so lovely! I adore how you arranged the pineapple on top for a shingled effect, rather than arranging the entire slices. Love the creativity! So vibrant and refreshing - there's nothing quite like juicy fruit + cake, is there? :)

March 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa @ Simple Pairings

I've been flirting with vanilla paste for a long time, but so far resisted... with your strong recommendation, I can see resistance is futile ;-)

beautiful cake... I love pineapple, but might have to use another fruit, its acidity gives me mouth sores that are getting worse and worse as the years go by... kind of sad, I love the fruit....

March 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSallyBR

Thanks for the inspiration, I've made it this weekend and made my version. A splash of rum in the cakebatter is just heavenly!

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTina

it looks delicious!

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdina

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