How to make palm sugar syrup | Cut a pineapple | Make pineapple upside-down cake

Pinapple and palm sugar

Today’s post is inspired by a retro recipe and two local products that are in ample supply and available all year round in Jakarta.

There’s a lot going on in this post…and we don’t want you to miss a thing!
Begin here to see how simple it is to make your own delicious palm sugar syrup, then work your way down the page to see how you too, can sculpt a pineapple into an ‘impressive work of art’. But don’t stop there…make sure you scroll all the way down the page, there you will find Jo’s step by step instructions on how to make her ‘retro inspired’ with a ‘local twist’, pineapple upside down cake.

We’ll meet you at the end for coffee and cake!

Beginning with the palm sugar syrup. This nature sweetener is a wonderful replacement for maple syrup, golden syrup or honey. It’s great on top of ice-cream, drizzled on pancakes or crepes, splashed into a smoothie, or used to sweeten anything you would use a liquid sweetener for, including today’s pineapple upside-down cake, and it’s low GI!

You may have seen the packaged, burnt caramel coloured palm sugar blocks labeled ‘Gula Aren’ on the supermarket shelves here, or displayed for sale in rattan baskets at your local pasar. Next time you are at the supermarket, rather than picking up the white sugar variety, why not buy local!

Petty Elliott, local Indonesian author and renowned cook introduced us to this highly versatile local ingredient at an Indonesian Heritage Society cooking demonstration. Palm sugar is made from boiling down the sap of various palm tree varieties. Air Gula Merah (brown sugar syrup) is one name used in Indonesia for the sticky, sweet syrup that is made by simply adding water to palm sugar. What results is a deliciously rich sauce with caramel and butterscotch overtones.

Whose taste buds wouldn’t be tempted by the sound of that!

(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)

How to make Palm Sugar Syrup

(Makes 1 cup)

300g palm sugar
250 ml water
3 pandan leaves

Slice palm sugar with a knife or crush into chunks
Tie the pandan leaf into a loose knot
Place palm sugar, pandan leaf and water into a heavy based saucepan
Bring to the boil, stirring to ensure syrup doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan
Turn down to a simmer, for approx 10-15 minutes. Simmer longer for a thicker consistency
Take off the heat, and strain the mixture
Allow to cool
Place in a jar or sealed container, (or use straight away warm on crepes or ice-cream)
Refrigerate until needed

* Cook’s note: If you don’t have access to pandan leaves, substitute with the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
* Keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks

(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)

How to cut a pineapple

(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Demonstrated by Mina, Image by Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)
(Image Nita Strudwick Photography)

How to make Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Cake 2


Enough pineapple rounds (thinly sliced) to cover the base of a 22cm round cake pan
125g butter (softened)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups self raising flour (sifted)
1/2 cup plain flour (sifted)

Caramel topping
120ml of palm sugar syrup (recipe above)
20g butter (melted and stirred into palm sugar syrup) * optional

cake 3


1. Preheat a moderate oven (180 degrees) and line a 22cm round cake pan with baking paper

2. Pour palm sugar syrup into base of cake tin, ensuring it is evenly distributed

cake 4

3. Arrange pineapple rounds so that the entire base is covered (avoid overlapping of fruit)

cake 5
4. Pour any remaining syrup over the pineapple

cake 6

5. Into a mixing bowl place sugars, butter and vanilla extract. Beat until light and fluffy

cake 7

6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each

cake 8

7. Remove bowl from mixer and add flours and milk alternatively, gently folding between each addition. Continue until milk and flour is just combined – but take care not to over mix

cake 9

8. Spoon mixture over pineapple

cake 10

9. Smooth top (releasing any air bubbles caught in mixture)

10. Bake in oven for approximately 30-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. (Note: cover the cake with foil if over-browning occurs)

11. Allow cake to rest in tin for 10-15 minutes before running a knife around the edge to release the cake

12. Place a serving plate on the top of the cake and carefully invert to release cake

cake 12

cake 14


To create a richer sauce, add a knob of butter to the palm sugar and heat until butter and sugar combine.
Pour this into base of cake tin before arranging pineapple

To up the ‘local factor’ add a pinch or two of Indonesian cinnamon to the flours prior to sifting. This will add an extra warmth to the cake and fill your home with a beautiful aroma whilst the cake is baking

This cake is best eaten warm with a dollop of double cream

PS. If you missed any of our previous recipes you can find them here.
Green Jakarta Smoothie
Brekkie Time in Jakarta
Quick and Tasty Asian-Inspired Noodle Salad
Recipes for Easy Entertaining
Easter Rocky Road
How to Make this Rich and Spicy Beef Rendang
Jeruk Bali, Goats Cheese and Pearl Couscous Salad

Words: Liz and Jo   Photography: Nita Strudwick Photography and a journey bespoke


    • ajourneybespoke says

      Hello Helen, Glad you enjoyed today’s post. We are definitely spoilt here for tropical ingredients. We would love to hear from you when you’ve made our tropical treats. Enjoy!


  1. […] Why?  Gula merah (‘red sugar’), is the Indonesian name for palm sugar and comes from the sap of the sugar palm as well as the nipa palm. Unlike regular white sugar, palm sugar is unrefined and contains a variety of nutrients. It also has a lower Glycemic Index than regular sugar. Its beautiful caramel and butterscotch notes add a richness to cooking. It is excellent when making desserts or adding to sauces or simply as a refined sugar substitute. We used gulah merah in our Pineapple upside down cake. […]

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