Saturday, June 8, 2019

Nanea's Pineapple Nut Cake

Authentically Hawaiian, starring some of the most famous imports to the islands!

If you guessed pineapple after reading my last post, you'd be right! There was no way to avoid the pineapple in this little month long feature I'm running, and really, why would you want to? They're delicious, and extremely versatile in dessert, drinks, and much more. They're a great source of Vitamin C, although if you eat too much of it in one sitting, you can end up burning your mouth thanks to the bromelain enzyme, which digests protein. 

That's right: your pineapple is taking a bite out of you while you eat it! 

This very dense cake also guest stars a second famous "Hawaiian" ingredient, and it comes from my favorite Hawaiian cookbook. I bet some of my readers remember which one that is! Read on to find out how to make it yourself.

The origins of the pineapple are fairly mysterious, and we don't actually really know for sure exactly when they were first domesticated. It's generally agreed that it's originally South American, originally popping up between Brazil and Paraguay, and then locals from those regions eventually introduced the fruit to the rest of the world. 

Therefore, pineapples are not indigenous to Hawaii, but they do have a long history there. They were first introduced sometime before Christian Missionaries set up shop on the islands in 1820, but they weren't commercially canned until 1899, when James Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. It took four years for the effort to become popular, but after that point, the Dole Company was there to stay, for better or worse. 

We'll talk more about Dole later. Although the company's stranglehold on the economy caused its own problems, pineapple quickly became an extremely iconic symbol of the cuisine of Hawaii, for people on and off the islands. It quickly became integrated into favorite recipes, and crafty chefs and bakers came up with new ways to use the sweet fruit in just about every way imaginable. By the 40's, pineapple would have been a familiar staple fruit in Hawaiian households. In Nanea's books, she drinks pineapple juice and eats pineapple upside down cake, and many of her accessory sets feature whole or sliced pineapple. 

I was considering making a pineapple upside down cake for this entry, but changed my mind while I was thumbing through my copy of Hawaii Cookbook & Backyard Luau by Elizabeth Ahn Toupin and found a recipe for a pineapple nut cake that sounded intriguing.

I talked about Hawaii Cookbook & Backyard Luau quite a lot in my post about lomi lomi salmon, but as a refresher, this cookbook was basically the only one published by an actual resident of Hawaii during the tiki craze in the mid century. Toupin would have been around Nanea's age during World War II, and many of these recipes are favorites she grew up eating in Hawaii. The cake is featured along with a full menu of other luau dishes, and Toupin provides no information about where she might have gotten the recipe from, but it sounded like just what I had in mind for this blog post. Plus, as it's something Nanea might have grown up eating, I felt like it was a better option than going with a generic pineapple upside down cake and hoping that was close to Mrs. Mitchell's recipe! 

To start, take 1/2 cup of melted butter and beat it gradually with 1 cup of sugar. Add two beaten eggs and mix everything together.

Next, add 3/4 of a cup of white flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and mix it in with the wet ingredients.

Finally, add in a drained 8 oz can worth of crushed pineapple and 1/2 cup of nuts. Toupin doesn't say what kind of nuts you should use, but let's be honest: you think macadamia nuts immediately, so that's what we used. 

I realized at this point that I completely forgot to take a picture of our drained pineapple. That was silly of me. 

The batter gets poured into a greased 9 inch square cake pan and baked in the oven for 325 for about an hour.

When it came out of the oven, I honestly wasn't sure from first looking at it if it was cooked or not, or if it was, maybe something terrible had happened, because the top of the cake looked alarmingly like a bunch of burnt sugar rather than a nice cake top. My sister and her best friend once made chocolate chip cookies with way less flour than the recipe called for, and my first glance of this cake immediately made me think of the sticky brown mess she and Eva discovered when they pulled the cookie sheets out of the oven. 

Fortunately, the weird coloring and texture was really only present on the very top of the cake, and it was immediately obvious as I started poking at it that it had in fact cooked all the way through! So that was exciting. 

It really didn't rise very much in the pan, which I guess makes sense because the pineapple was pretty dense and might weigh it down a little, but it made getting it out of the square pan a total pain. The sides came away nice and easily, but the bottom was stuck in nice and tight. If I make this again, I'm definitely putting some parchment paper at the bottom of the pan or using a spring form. 

It did eventually come out, but there was some relatively serious tearing.

Good thing the recipe calls for a whipped cream topping to help cover up the evidence! I just eyeballed about a half cup of cream into a bowl and added some powdered sugar to sweeten it, then whipped it and spread it on top. I probably could have been more generous, but considering I may or may not but probably am a little lactose intolerant, keeping light on the cream seemed like a good plan. 

It's not the prettiest cake I've ever made, but it'll do in a pinch, and does look similar to the sheet cake pineapple cake I had at a luau while I was on vacation with my family.

Slicing into it, the cake is a really nice yellow color, and definitely very dense. I managed to get some good distribution of the nuts, too, and the frosting made for a pretty contrast with the slice!

But I bet you're all just waiting for me to say how it tasted, right?

It was okay. Honestly, it reminded me a lot of the guava bread I made last year, in that the macadamia nuts totally overpowered any other flavors going on and it really became a macadamia nut cake. Don't get me wrong: I love macadamias, and it was still a tasty flavor, but when this is called a pineapple nut cake, you really want to taste more pineapple. The pineapple we used was definitely flavorful, so I don't think it's the fruit's fault. Jess thinks we should try making it again with pineapple chunks instead of crushed pineapple, as that way you're guaranteed a more significant bite of fruit. I'd be willing to give it a shot, and I'd be interested to hear if any of you try it out yourselves! 

Otherwise, it was a tasty enough cake. Not quite as big a hit as the banana cookies, but still tasty, and a fun look at another recipe in Toupin's arsenal. Maybe next time, I'll try it with a different kind of nut too and see if that helps rescue the pineapple at all. 

So there you have it. If you're looking for a pineapple inspired dessert, you could definitely do worse, and if you're a fan of macadamia nuts, this is definitely something you'll want to try out for yourself! Either way, this is an authentically Hawaiian recipe that could definitely have been enjoyed by our spunky heroine Nanea and her friends. The next several recipes might feature ingredients grown in Hawaii, but aren't exactly coming from authentic sources. Stay tuned to see what the mid century liked to call Hawaiian!

Next stop: Jefferson, Illinois, and a feature from The American Girl Party Book!


  1. It looks yummy. I think I would love the icing.

    Happy World Doll Day!

    1. Thank you! Totally missed it this year, we've been so busy!

  2. I bet that would be great with walnuts. I'd be inclined to try dried pineapple pieces tossed into the batter as well for more substance to the pineapple flavor.

    Looks delicious!

    1. Definitely think we'll be trying a different nut next time!

  3. We are definitely going to try this! Yum :)