Our guests on our multi-day rivers are usually blown away by our ability to prepare incredible meals deep in the wilderness, and often ask us for our recipes. Desserts are always a favorite. So, we figured we would share a recipe and some tips for our guides’ favorite multi-day river trip dessert: pineapple upside down cake!
First, we needed to decide: What’s our favorite multi-day river trip dessert on trips like Oregon’s Owyhee River or Idaho’s Main Salmon River.
Raft guides are an opinionated bunch, and everyone of them has their favorite meal or dessert on their favorite multi-day trips. So, we figured we would ask Wet Planet’s Todd Collins about his favorite river trip dessert. After eight trips last season on the Main Salmon River, he was sure to have some good pointers. When we asked him for his favorite river dessert, the answer was pretty quick:
That’s easy: Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake! It’s super easy and mega delicious. Anyone can make it. You can make it at home, car camping or deep in the wilderness. When you flip that D.O. upside down, the wow factor is off the charts!
With that decided, we just needed to add Todd’s tips to our standard recipe. The following is our multi-day trip recipe and instructions for making Pineapple Upside Down Cake in a Dutch oven, complete with some pro-tips from Todd.
What do yo need to make a Pineapple Upside Down Cake?
- 12” Dutch oven (Make sure it has feet and a lip around the lid)
- Lid lifter
- Charcoal briquettes
- Heat resistant gloves or oven mitts
- Soft spatula
- Nice level surface to cook on (most river corridors require a fire pan)
- Box of yellow cake mix and the all ingredients that the box asks for:
- 1 cup water (we use pineapple juice)
- 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
- 3 Eggs
- Large Mixing bowl
- Small bowl for eggs
- 1 Stick of butter (or just a little bit more)
- 1 can of pineapple rings
- Small jar of Maraschino Cherries
- 1 cup of brown sugar
How do you make a pineapple upside down cake?
Get your ingredients ready and mix the cake mix, pineapple juice/water, oil and eggs in large bowl.
- Coat the Dutch oven liberally with butter.
- Arrange the pineapple slices around the bottom and fill in the centers of the slices and other spaces with cherries.
- Lightly sprinkle the brown sugar evenly to cover the pineapples
Recipes always say “lightly sprinkle with brown sugar.” I completely cover those pineapples and cherries with brown sugar. You can never have too much. Also, don’t get rid of the pineapple juice from the can of pineapple rings. You can use that juice when you make the cake.
- Mix the cake mix, pineapple juice/water, oil and eggs in large bowl and pour evenly over the pineapples and brown sugar.
Here, you’re just following the cake mix instructions on the box. However, the special secret sauce is pineapple juice. Strain the pineapple juice from the can of pineapple rings, and use that in place of the water requested by the cake mix recipe.
- Cover it and bake it over charcoals. Depending on temps and wind, about 10 underneath and about 14 on top should do.
We could probably start a fight between river guides arguing about how many coals you should use with your Dutch oven. Recipe books for Dutch ovens will have very specific numbers for exactly how many coals equals exactly what temperature. I’ve never found those numbers to work super well. It all depends too much on outside factors, such as the material your D.O. is made out of, the weather, etc. Really, you just need to practice and get to know your own D.O. With this recipe, on our hot summer trips, and a 12″ aluminum Dutch oven, I use 9 coals on the bottom and 12 on top. With this recipe, 10 underneath and 14 on top will also work fine. The pineapples and cherries keep the bottom nice and juicy, so you’re not terribly worried about burning it.
- It will need to bake about 35 minutes. When it’s done, you’ll see the edges of the cake separating from the oven. You can check with a toothpick. It’s done when a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Don’t ever lift the lid off a Dutch oven until it’s done. You’ll know it’s done when you can smell the cake. If you can’t smell the goodness, it’s not done. Don’t lift the lid until you can smell it. That’s the secret to Dutch oven cooking.
- Cool about 10 minutes, but not too long as you don’t want it to fully cool.
- Use a soft spatula to make sure the cake is not stuck to the Dutch oven all the way around.
- Put the lid on the Dutch oven and using the heat-resistant gloves, flip the Dutch oven upside down onto a heat-resistant table (with the lid on) and give it a nice tap/bang when you put it down. The goal is to set the Dutch oven on the table, upside down.
The flipping of the Dutch oven can be a little tricky. Most Dutch oven lids also have a handle or a loop in the middle, so the whole thing won’t sit level upside down on the table. I do two things to fix this: 1. if I have the portable Dutch oven legs that are used to give non-leg Dutch ovens some legs, I’ll flip a set of these upside down. Then, when I flip the Dutch oven over, the handle or loop fits right into the middle of the legs, creating a perfect stand to hold the upside down Dutch oven level. If I don’t have any of these legs, I’ll make a little stand out of three rocks. Then, when I flip the Dutch over over upside down, I can set it right onto the rocks with the lid handle fitting in between the rocks. The key here is to make sure that when you set the Dutch oven down upside down it all stays level. Otherwise your cake will slide off the side.
Most importantly – make sure you hold onto the lid when you flip it upside down! If you let go of the lid, it’s all going into the sand.
- Gather the crowd around, lift the body of the Dutch oven, unveiling your masterpiece pineapple upside down cake and enjoy!
This is probably the most important step. The whole flipping your Dutch oven and pulling off the lid is a great time to show-off. The end result has a big wow factor. I always play around, tapping the sides of the D.O., knocking on the bottom, and generally making a display of the whole thing. You just spent a bunch of time sweating over this awesome dessert, and it’s going to be awesome, so milk it.