One of Claire’s tenets is use only edible items to embellish a cake, and by edible, she means things that enhance the flavour, as well as the appearance.
The pineapple flowers looked so much like the chrysanthemums and sunflowers on Fleur by Williams Sonoma that I was emboldened to create a cake adorned with the pineapple flowers as a centerpiece.
I loooove centerpieces you can eat!
Debating between carrot cake and spice cake as the vehicle for the flowers, I remembered that Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Icing had been a huge hit with family and friends, so the cake and its filling moved into the favoured position.
I opted for traditional cream cheese icing, rather than the brown butter version, as I wanted a lighter canvas for the pineapple flowers.
This latest version was an even bigger hit. I piped a thick layer of cream cheese icing between the layers of the cake, topping it with a generous portion of a candied ginger, pecan and pumpkin seed filling.
While fighting did not precisely break out over the last piece of cake, let’s just say the family was a bit protective of their portions. Ahem!
For the pineapple flowers
- 1 whole pineapple
For the cake
- 3/4 c (170 g or 6 oz) unsalted butter; more for the pans
- 2 c (255 g or 9 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 3/4 tsp table salt
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1 1/2 c (300g or 10.5 oz) granulated sugar
- 2/3 c (133 g or 4.7 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 c (337 g or 12 oz) pumpkin puree
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 c buttermilk
For the filling
- 2 tbsp (28 g or 1 oz) unsalted butter
- 1/3 c (35 g or 1 oz) pecans
- 1/2 c (75 g or 2.5 oz) unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas
- 2 tbsp (25 g or 0.875 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 2 tbsp (25 g or 1 oz) chopped crystallized ginger
For the frosting
- 1 c (227 g or 8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 454 g (16 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 4 tsp vanilla
- 4 c (454 g or 16 oz) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Make the pineapple flowers
- Preheat the oven to 225ºF.
- Cut the top off the pineapple, and remove the rind, cutting as close to the skin as you can. Don’t worry about the eyes in the pineapple for now, you can cut them out with a paring knife after you’ve made the thin slices. If you cut too much of the rind away, you end up with very small flowers.
- Lie the pineapple on its side on a cutting board, and using a very sharp chef’s or satoku knife, cut the pineapple into very thin slices (you should be able to see the knife through the slices).
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Place the pineapple slices between layers of paper towels to absorb some of the moisture before arranging the pineapple slices on the parchment.
- Baking times vary, but you’ll want to start with 30 minutes to an hour, then flip the slices over, and then bake for another 30 minutes. Keep checking every 15 minutes and flipping the slices as needed. They will shrink as they bake, and you’ll notice the little dots in the middle of the flower forming naturally as they dry. Mine took quite a while, and I even shut off the oven completely for a few hours when I had to go out. I turned it back on when I arrived home and picked up where we left off.
- Once the slices have dried to your satisfaction, place them in muffin tins so they curve like a flower and let them dry overnight to retain their shape. If you find they’re still a bit sticky and springy in the morning, you can leave them in the muffin cups and give them a little longer in a 225º oven.
Make the cake
- Position a rack in the centre of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F Convection or 350°F.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown (about 4 minutes). Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set (about 15 minutes).
- Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and allspice. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
- Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean (about 30 minutes). Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely. Better yet, freeze them until ready to decorate the cake.
Make the filling
- Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop (about 2 minutes). Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed (about 2 minutes). Stir in the ginger. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet, stirring once or twice while the mixture cools to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Make the frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until fluffy and light in colour (2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla. Gradually beat in the sifted confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy (1-3 minutes). Do not overbeat, or the frosting will split.
Assemble the cake
- Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Pipe or spread a thick layer of frosting onto the cake. Sprinkle the nut mixture over the frosting, leaving a margin of about 1″ around the edge. Pipe additional frosting around the edge of the cake to enclose the filling; that way you won’t end up with a gap on the sides of your cake. Top with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
- Arrange the pineapple flowers to suit. I cascaded mine down the top and sides of the cake.
- I was a bit concerned that the brown sugar/nut mixture would clump and stick to the pan, but have no fear. Just stir it once or twice while it’s cooling and it will remain crumbly and easy to spread, leaving an easy clean-up.
- I made the pineapple flowers and the cake layers well in advance and froze them. That way I was only dealing with icing and decorating the cake on the day I wished to serve it.