September – 2013 Cookbook Challenge

Someone Else's Cookie (thank goodness!)

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of sweet baked goods, generally speaking. When I was a kid, I didn’t care a whole lot for cookies beyond your basic chocolate chip, and I disliked cake so much that I would eat the frosting and discard the rest. As I grew, so did my taste for pies and tarts and even the occasional perfectly moist slice of devils food, and yet I’ve never been the type to be plagued by thoughts of that half-eaten birthday cake hibernating in the office fridge. What’s more, unless I’m in the throes of an abnormal-for-me craving, I find it incredibly easy to say “no” to cookies of nearly every description, and if you need someone to guard that tray of brownies you were saving for the neighborhood bake sale, I’m your girl.

That being said, I love baking and nearly everything it represents: It’s warm and cozy, snuggly even. It evokes images of grandmothers in frilly aprons propping pies on windowsills to allow them cool.  At the same time baking is often an exact science, so it’s also refined, it’s sumptuous, it’s elegant. Baking is an accomplishment, and it is its own reward; an investment of time and diligence whose return is that one blissful moment of guilt-free indulgence when your work is through at last, and you can finally sample your creation. If all has gone well, and you’ve nailed it, you get that rush of supreme satisfaction that comes when you survey your handiwork and marvel to yourself, “I made this!”

If you’re like me, you follow all of the above with a little dance around the kitchen, and perhaps some exultant humming, but then, your craving satiated, the bakers high begins to mellow. The reality dawns on you that you still have tray after tray of pastry to get through. You only really wanted one cookie or one cupcake, but you’re left with dozens, and while you don’t want to waste them, you don’t want to eat them, either. But then who will? You don’t have family nearby, you’ve never taken the time to meet any of your neighbors, and because you live in Los Angeles, all of your friends are on diets and all of your coworkers are in the middle of a juice cleanse! What in the world were you thinking?!  =begins breathing into a paper bag=

Needless to say that when “Small Batch Baking” caught my eye as I browsed my local book store in the late 2000s, it revolutionized my pastry world.

Author Debby Maugans Nakos, in genius fashion, took beloved recipes that would normally feed a crowd, and reworked them so that they only make two-to-four portions. It’s brilliant! This book became an instant favorite of mine, and several of the recipes have become my go-tos over the years. I love that I don’t need to invent an occasion (“Look, Bob’s wearing that shirt we all think is hilarious!”) or latch onto obscure holidays (“Arbor Day brownies, anyone?”) to justify baking. Now, if I want chocolate cake at 10:00 on a Saturday night, I have only to spend a few minutes throwing ingredients together and into the oven, and then half an hour later, CAKE! I’ve invested very little time, used a minimum of ingredients, and don’t have mounds of extra desserts that I will never, ever get through.

When it came time to do my September cook, and I found myself left with a small portion of pineapple chunks leftover from making pizza, I knew I could turn to “Small Batch Baking” to help me use them up.

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Makes 2 cakes; serves 2



    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/3 cup canned pineapple tidbits in juice or syrup, well drained
    • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
    • 3 tablespoons buttermilk

If you have trouble using buttermilk quickly enough to justify buying a full quart of it, I’m happy to report that it freezes beautifully. Pour it in ice cube trays, then transfer to a ziptop bag when hardened, so you’ll always have small portions of it available for when those late-night cravings hit.

    • 1 tablespoon light rum
    • Yolk of 1 large egg
    • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
    • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
    • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
    • ⅛ teaspoon salt
    • Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional) (I opted not.)

   Pan required:

   1 jumbo muffin pan (¾-cup capacity) (I used some mini springform pans I have.)


    • 1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375º F.
    • 2. Place 1 ½ teaspoons of the butter in each of the 2 muffin cups  cake pans. Bake until the butter is bubbly and beginning to turn golden, 1 minute.
    • 3. Meanwhile, mix the pineapple with the brown sugar in a small bowl. Remove the muffin cake pans from the oven and spoon the pineapple mixture over the butter in the muffin cups pans, dividing it evenly between them. Set the muffin pans aside.
    • 4. Place the buttermilk, rum, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk to mix.
    • 5. Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, and salt together into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and half of the buttermilk mixture. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Apparently I chose to do this step by hand. It’s been long enough since this bake that I have no idea why.

    • Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the batter is lightened and has slightly increased in volume, 45 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour in the remaining buttermilk mixture and beat on medium speed until well blended, 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    • 6. Spoon the batter  over the pineapple in the muffin cups pans, dividing it evenly between them, and then smooth the tops. Fill the empty muffin cups halfway with water to prevent them from scorching. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes.
    • 7. Remove the ­muffin pans from the oven and place it them on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Carefully pour the water out of the muffin cups.
  •  Place a large plate over the muffin pans, and using potholders to hold the plate securely, invert the cakes onto the plate. Tranfer the cakes to serving plates. Serve the cakes warm, with vanilla ice cream if desired.

This is one of those rare times when I don’t have a picture of the finished dish. I’m embarrassed to say that they looked *awful* when I turned them out, and I couldn’t bear to document that. In hindsight, I wish I had anyhow, but it’s far too late now. Rest assured that what they lacked in looks they more than made up for in taste. The cakes were moist and fruity and tangy. One was exactly enough of a dessert fix to appease that very tiny sweet tooth of mine. I took the second one to work and ate it for breakfast the next day, which was perfect. It also made those juice cleansers juuuuuuust a little bit jealous of my indulgent, but not too indulgent meal.


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