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Pineapple Desserts Brighten Winter

Fine Cooking Issue 55
Photos: Amy Albert
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A produce bin in winter isn’t the most likely place to find a blast of bright fruit flavor…that is, until you consider pineapple. Lively, tropical, and tartsweet, pineapple delivers a refreshing sunniness that’s so welcome in winter… or any time of year, really.

After years of traveling to Hawaii, I’ve become a bit obsessed by pineapple, experimenting to discover as many ways as I can to include it in desserts. One of my favorite simple ways to serve fresh pineapple is sliced thinly and drizzled with a simple dessert sauce. But it also fares deliciously stirred into a cake, muffin, or quickbread batter. What’s more, pineapple is wonderful roasted, where it becomes a companion to a scoop of ice cream, the filling for a shortcake, or the topping for a tart.

At the market, you’ll see pineapple from Hawaii, as well as from South and Central America. You may see them called by different names, but in terms of flavor, there are two kinds: one is golden tinged and sweeter; the other greenish-yellow and slightly tarter. Both are delicious.

There are a few ways to tell if a pineapple is ready to eat. Sniff it: A ripe one has a sweet fragrance with no hint of fermentation (if you do detect a fermenty odor, move along to the next pineapple). Squeeze it: If it’s rock hard, it’s probably unripe. If there’s a little bit of give, the pineapple is probably nice and ripe. Another clue: A juicy pineapple will feel heavy for its size, but do check to make sure that juice isn’t leaking through the bottom, indicating that the fruit is breaking down. Color isn’t necessarily an indicator of ripeness.

A ripe pineapple will start to deteriorate if you leave it at room temperature (I learned this the hard way when I once kept a pineapple on my kitchen counter for too long, only to discover that it had eaten into the granite countertop.) For best flavor, stash your pineapple in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it.

Make a salad, a salsa, or a smoothie with fresh pineapple

For a delicious blast of tropical flavor, use fresh pineapple in these ways:

  • Toss fresh pineapple chunks with blood oranges, ruby grapefruit, bananas, a splash of white wine, and a dash of grated ginger for a simple fruit salad.
  • Whir chunks of fresh pineapple with yogurt, honey, and lime juice for a delicious smoothie.
  • Drizzle fresh pineapple with raspberry purée or butterscotch sauce.
  • Toss chopped pineapple with lime juice, diced red bell pepper, minced red onion, a pinch of salt, minced jalapeño, and chopped fresh cilantro for a terrific sweet-tart salsa.
  • Grill fresh pineapple slices (or skewered chunks) and scatter them with toasted coconut or grated white chocolate.

Pineapple partners, from ginger to mint to rum

As you’ll see from the recipes here, the sweet-tart flavor of pineapple works beautifully alongside a wide range of companion flavors and ingredients. Some of my favorites are butter, coconut, rum, vanilla, ginger, mint, tea, cream cheese, almonds, hazelnuts, banana, and white chocolate.

When roasting pineapple taste the fruit first. If it’s especially sweet, you may want to use a bit less sugar. Pineapple is quite juicy, so when you’re using fresh chunks in a recipe like the snack cake, it’s a good idea to drain them in a strainer and then set them on a few layers of paper towels. The fruit is slippery, too; for the safest way to peel a pineapple, see Peeling & coring a pineapple.

Simple ways with roasted pineapple

The roasted pineapple recipe serves as the filling for the tart and the shortcakes. But it’s also delicious, warm or at room temperature, in other simple preparations:

  • Serve chunks or slices with vanilla ice cream.
  • Stir diced chunks into your next batch of banana bread or lemon cake.
  • Toss some into an apple pie or galette.
  • Chop and use to flavor a buttercream frosting.
  • Chop and then season with a pinch of nutmeg, a little ground cinnamon, and a bit of grated orange zest; use as a cheesecake topping or a turnover filling.
  • Chop and toss with a pinch of ground cumin, ground coriander, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some chopped fresh mint to make a roasted pineapple “chutney.”

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