Do you have a favorite homemade treat from your childhood? Maybe a cake your Mom used to make? I was reminded of one while reading my review copy of The Italian Baker: 100 International Baking Recipes with a Modern Twist by Melissa Forti. This book is a collection of sweet treats from Melissa’s Tea Room and Cakes located in Sarzana in northwestern Italy. The recipes have been gathered from all over the world from Forti’s travels and have been adapted to Italian tastes. While reading the book, I couldn’t help feeling more than a little jealous of her life. She bakes wonderful cakes and other sweets, changes the menu daily for a crowd of regulars, and all this happens in a charming area of Italy. It was the recipe for Fette All’Ananas, or Pineapple Squares, that reminded me of a pineapple cake my Mom baked when I was growing up. I haven’t tasted that cake in years, but I was sure I had the recipe filed away somewhere. I started searching for it, thinking I had a hand-written card tucked into my recipe binder, but came up empty handed. Thankfully, a quick text message to my Mom was all that was needed for her to send the recipe to me a few minutes later. I remembered her pineapple sheet cake had coconut in the cream cheese frosting, but I had forgotten that pecans were in the frosting as well. These pineapple squares from the book are a little different and maybe a little less decadent with no frosting, and I’m so glad to now have both recipes in my possession. The book offers a range of sweets from elegant, celebration cakes to cookies and candies. But, the recipes are not difficult to create. I’m so curious to try the Red Wine Doughnut Cookies made with olive oil, red wine, and aniseed and the luscious-looking Semolina and Ricotta cake which is a cheesecake with orange and lemon zest. Also, I’ve done several web searches and made several calls in an attempt to locate the Italian liqueur made with peach leaves called Persichetto. It’s the primary flavoring in a pretty bundt cake, and I’d love to taste it. I have yet to find a way of getting it here, but I’ll keep trying. There are also pound cakes, tarts, and more to try. Of course, the first thing I tried, though, was the Pineapple Squares.
An eight-inch by twelve-inch pan was suggested for these squares, but I don’t have one that size. Instead, I used a nine by nine-inch pan and lined it with parchment. First, a crumble topping was prepared with flour, sugar, and butter, and sliced almonds were stirred in at the end. I added some unsweetened, grated coconut just to make this more like my Mom’s pineapple cake. Next, a cookie base was made by mixing butter and sugar, and I used coconut palm sugar. Two eggs were added followed by flour, buttermilk, vanilla, and almond extract. This mixture was spread in the bottom of the prepared pan. Next, canned pineapple was supposed to be used, but I used fresh instead. I pulsed chunks of fresh pineapple in a food processor and then transferred it to a strainer to drain away some liquid. If you do this, set the strainer over a bowl so you can drink the drained pineapple juice later. The chopped and drained pineapple was spread over the cookie base. Next, the crumble topping was sprinkled on the top. Because I was using a slightly smaller pan than suggested and because I added coconut, I had plenty of crumb topping. Note: I sometimes double the quantity for a crumb topping to be sure there’s “enough.” This time, that wasn’t necessary. The pan went into the oven for about 40 minutes until the topping was golden.
I should point out that my cookie base is a darker color than what is seen in the photo in the book because I used coconut palm sugar rather than regular granulated sugar. The pineapple bakes into that cookie base and keeps it very tender resulting in bars that are easy to cut. The flavor of the almond extract with the pineapple is lovely, and the crumb topping is just sweet enough. And now, I’ll return to my daydream about baking different things every morning for a tea room in a charming, small town in Italy
Fette all'Ananas (Pineapple Squares)
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Italian Baker.
Pineapple is thought to have amazing effects on our body. If consumed regularly it can burn fat and, even better, it contributes to a positive uplifting mood. So, let’s bake a pineapple slice and smile!
Makes 6 large slices
170g (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
170g (3/4 cup) caster (granulated) sugar
250g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
200ml (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
450g (1lb) canned pineapple in natural juice
For the almond crumble
80g (2/3 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
60g (1/2 cup) light brown sugar
55g (1/4 cup) butter, chilled and diced
30g (1 1/2 oz) flaked (slivered) almonds
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20 x 30-cm/8 x 12-inch brownie tin and line with baking parchment.
Prepare the crumble. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and butter until crumbly. Stir in the slivered almonds by hand and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl and using hand-held electric beaters, beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract to combine.
Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Open the pineapple can, drain off the juice and roughly chop the pineapple. Spread the pineapple over the top of the mixture in the brownie tin and sprinkle with the almond crumble.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until the almond crumble is golden, then leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack before cutting into squares or slices.
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