You might want to start rolling your eyes right now, you know, to get a head start before you hear what I’m about to say next: You know that time I dashed off to Aruba for a lazy weekend? I couldn’t find a decent piña colada anywhere. I know! Can you imagine having to suffer like this while on vacation? I mean, life is hard enough when your resort has a water slide with no age limit that deposits one mere feet from the swim-up bar; where you can cat-nap under your cabana while reading a book — with pages — any time being awake is just too exhausting to bear and wake up to gaze at the turquoise water meeting the impossibly blue sky until all of your thoughts file neatly into order. Obviously a watered-down piña colada from a piña colada mix is taking things just one step too far.
All joking aside, can we eversobriefly have a moment of silence for a once-great drink that’s been drained of all frolic and joy — waves of sharp pineapple juice, creamy coconut foam and a dark island rum undercurrent — by beachside hotel bars trying to increase their profit margins? That pour corn sweetened weakly flavored mixes from cartons and clear rum from a no-name brand with ice into a blender and think this is what one travels all the way from NYC in the dead of winter for? Once upon a time, a coworker taught me the secret to astoundingly delicious piña coladas, and it is not pineapple juice but crushed pineapple from a can in its juice. You run this through the blender with ice, cream of coconut and enough dark rum to make you arch your eyebrows and blink a few times after the first sip, but quickly return for your second, pour it into a glass, pop a pineapple wedge and a paper umbrella — yes, even if you’re snowbound in your living room in the Northeast, actually especially if so — near the rim and beam yourself anywhere you want to be.
Of course, we are now back to the grind, back to reality and no matter how luxurious this whole consolidated nap schedule feels (parents of toddlers, can I get a little hey-ya! on that?) I hardly think it would be appropriate Sunday afternoon behavior to whirl up a blender of piña coladas (plus, the blender the would wake the baby). And so, I think we should sublimate these urges where all great urges are sublimated: in cake. But I hope it doesn’t feel like settling — the cake is moist, not too sweet (the glaze is a great contrast, not just overkill) and comes together quickly. Plus it’s got all of the ingredients that make the drink great, but you can share it with your underaged kitchen help when they wake up.
One year ago: Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding) and Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs
Two years ago: Meatball Sliders and Key Lime Coconut Cake (obviously, I dream of cakes like this every year at this time)
Three years ago: Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs and Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges
Four years ago: Red Split Lentils with Cabbage, Indian-Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes and Cucumber and Scallion Raita
Piña Colada Cake
Note: Cream of coconut is different from coconut milk; it is a very sweet, thick white liquid while coconut milk is unsweetened, just water and pressed coconut flesh. I used cream of coconut because it had a stronger coconut flavor. If you can only find coconut milk, however, in one test of the cake (that was delicious but didn’t have the coconut oomph I wanted) I used a cup of it instead, used all of the brown sugar and added 3/4 cup granulated sugar.
If you cannot get fresh pineapple, grab a small can of pineapple (in 100% pineapple juice, not syrup). The juice in the can can be used for the glaze. You’ll get a sharper flavor, of course, from fresh pineapple.
2 cups (250 grams or 8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (113 grams or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup light (55 grams or 2 ounces) brown sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) dark rum
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (237 ml) cream of coconut
1/2 cup (72 grams or 2 1/2 ounces) finely chopped fresh pineapple (or pineapple from a can, strained, juice reserved)
To brush over the cake
1 to 2 tablespoons rum (optional)
2 tablespoons pineapple juice (optional)
1 cup (120 grams or 4 ounces) powdered sugar
Pinch of table or fine sea salt
1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons pineapple juice
2 tablespoons dark rum for sprinkling over cake (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat eggs, one at a time, and rum. Add cream of coconut and mix; the batter will look curdly and worrisome but will all work out in the end. Add dry ingredients, half at a time, mixing and scraping down bowl between additions. Mix only until flour is just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, fold in bits of pineapple.
Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment.
For extra flavor, while the cake is still hot you can brush it with rum or pineapple juice.
Cool cake completely at room temperature, or in the fridge if you are impatient for cake (who isn’t?). Once completely cool, place powdered sugar and salt in a small bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons pineapple juice and whisk until a thick glaze forms. Thin glaze only as needed, adding additional pineapple juice a teaspoon at a time until glaze is just thick enough to pour. Pour glaze into middle of cake and if it’s too thick to crawl to the edges itself, nudge it with a spatula until the top is covered. Serve immediately or let it set in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.