I have quite a name for being easily disappointed by desserts. It has happened to me more than once to have a wonderful dinner in some restaurant, only to be let down, and quite badly, when it comes to the dessert department. Too sweet, too fat, not really fresh, just plain boring: wasted calories, really. I recently had a nice dinner in a place where they prepare dishes with tens of vegetables, each cooked to perfection with its own technique. Intrigued by such precision, and curious about the (inevitable) ‘Michelin-star trained chef’, we ordered pudding. They brought us a treacle tart so chewy that it is still hanging from the work of my dentist, tasting only of sugar, covered by an ice cream ball sized scoop of clotted cream, and a stale vanilla sable'; all probably worth the calories I normally consume in a day. When I decide to indulge, I want to get bangs for my calorie investment. I want flavours and textures so exciting I cannot stop eating.
This is one of those desserts worth each and every of the calories it contains, and there is quite a lot of them. Many of the cakes in this group have been inspired by this book of recipes from Laduree: it is, after all, one of the most famous patisseries in the whole world for good reasons. On the other hand, again, the recipe on the book was not quite right: not such a bad thing, if you think that I had to make the recipe twice just to confirm that my changes were working. Ah, the hard life of a dedicated food blogger. This is the version of the recipe I’m going to make from now on, hopefully many times.
I normally don’t include desserts in my diet, and when I prepare one it tends to hush my sweet cravings for a while. I even feel slightly disgusted with fat and sugar, no matter how good the cake. This effect propelled me to perfect my ability in the baking department: I’ve always been glutton to say the least; but to stop myself from overeating sugary and fatty food, I soon found out that if I am surrounded by butter for the hours it takes to prepare a very complex cake, my cravings are cut down considerably. I still remember the butter cream I made for a Dobos once, for my mum’s birthday. It was a painstaking process of baking layers and layers of butter rich cake, and slathering them with the richest cream on Earth (by the way, unless you plan to invite 300 persons to the party, you should know that Dobos slices freeze perfectly). I ate a really tiny slice, and, while still enjoying it, I did not even want to see it after that.
This cake is not like that. It is rich, but I made it again exactly three days after making the first one, and would be happy to make one today. And to eat it, of course. It is just the type of cake that is perfect with everything – morning coffee, afternoon tea, and even after a heavy dinner we all managed to gob down a good slice. Pineapple is an incredible fruit and here it really shines: yes, the dessert does sound a bit eighty (a tart with caramelized pineapple!), but not all eightie crazes are necessarily a bad thing.
Now, to the adjustments: the pastry was perfect, although quite different from my usual method, and very easy to work with. It does not even shrink much with cooking, which was my main worry. However the recipe does not call for blind baking it first, so the resulting cake turned out with a soggy bottom, as I was expecting it would. The second time I blind baked it first, and it was perfect (and yes, I took the picture the first time I made the cake: the second one disappeared too quickly). The roasted pineapple recipe was weird: why would you make a syrup with equal quantities of water and sugar to make a caramel out of it? you’re going to have to boil the thing down for an hour, which is exactly what I ended up doing. I ditched the water the second time, and the roasted pineapple turned out perfect. I also doubled the quantities of pineapple, since you need a lot of slices to obtain a really full-looking top, and since you can never make too much roasted pineapple. The cream was advertised as almond and coconut, but only coconut was listed in the ingredient list. A-hem. I can only guess, but since I prefer almond over coconut any day, I decided to make a rather classic frangipane cream, also cutting down on the amount of butter and cream in the original recipe. Probably the almond taste and texture is much stronger in this version, and I can’t see how this could be a bad thing. The cake has a rich, haunting flavour. I think vanilla and rum are rounding it off and contributing to the balance, so I won’t leave them out even if they are expensive and even if you can only suspect they are there. And if you don’t want to go over the top, the roasted pineapple is worth every minute it spends in the oven, and would make an amazing dessert on his own with a little ice cream, or even full fat yoghurt, or in a fresh fruit salad.
Another Laduree mixed feeling result, but despite this, I know I’m going to try many more cakes from that book: next time though I’ll trust my instincts – or maybe not, so I get to make the cake twice!
Pineapple and frangipane tart
Almond sweet pastry:
125 butter, room temperature
70 gr icing sugar
25 gr almond flour
200 gr flour
pinch of salt
seeds from half vanilla pod
2 medium-large pineapples
120 gr sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon rum
4 tablespoon water
100 gr ground almonds
80 gr Demerara sugar
50 gr butter
4 tablespoon rum
4 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoon roasted pineapple syrup
For the pastry: cream room temperature butter and sugar until you have a uniform cream-like consistency, then add in the seeds from half vanilla bean and a pinch of salt. Add in the almonds, then the egg, and finally the flour, sifted. Mix quickly with your fingertips or using a food processor just until it comes together. The dough will be quite soft and you should have no problem wrapping it into a ball and covering with cling film. Chill for at least two hours. It will keep a few days in the fridge, or it can be frozen for as long as you need. You only need half of the recipe for this tart.
For the roasted pineapple: Remove rind from pineapple and cut into 6-8 chunks lengthwise, trimming off the hard woody center. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape off the seeds and put everything, seeds and bean, to infuse in four tablespoons of boiling water. Heat sugar on a heavy saucepan to a light caramel colour (it will take about 10 minutes, depending on your pan). When you like the colour add the strained vanilla water, the orange juice and the rum: be careful because it will splutter. The caramel with first become solid then melt in the liquids; if it stays solid a lot reheat it gently, stirring. Pour over the pineapple, coating. Roast for about 1 hour and a half, basting occasionally with the juices. The pineapple is ready when it looks slightly browned at the edges and cooked through. Let cool.
For the frangipane cream: work butter at room temperature until soft and cream-like. Add the rest of the ingredients using a little of the pineapple roasting juices to get a creamy consistency. Mix in about three pineapple logs, sliced to 2 cm chunks.
To make the tart: Preheat the oven to 170 Celsius. Butter and flour a 20 cm diameter tart tin: mine had a bottom that could be lifted, so removing the cake was easier. Roll the pastry, fridge cold but totally defrosted (if using frozen) to about 2 mm, using a rolling pin and some flour. Line the tart tin, cover with baking parchment paper, and fill with baking beans. Cook for about 20-30 mins until golden. Remove the beans, pour in the frangipane cream and bake for another 30 minutes or a bit longer. The cake is ready when the custard is set and the top is golden. Let cool. Cut the pineapple logs into 2 cm thick slices, and arrange them regularly on top of the tart in slightly overlapping circles, starting from the external one. If you have enough pineapple it will look a bit like a pineapple top. Brush with a bit of the roasting juices if you like: they will be thick, almost dense, like honey.