I bought a bunch of local peaches, nectarines and plums at the farmer’s market this Saturday. Most were eaten out of hand, but a few peaches were set aside to play with. Of course, the ever-reliable peach crisp, and peach frozen yogurt are both family favorites, but I wanted to try something a bit different. A quick perusal through some cookbooks yielded this recipe, taken from the pages of Baking Illustrated by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. (Christopher Kimball is one of my favorite food geeks!) Minor changes - of course - were sure to ensue.
I used my 10” cast iron skillet, making this a one-pan recipe. I cooked the topping a bit longer than stated, producing a darker, smokier caramel because it combined two of my favorite tastes: smoke and caramel. I also upped the spice factor and added a nice dusting of cinnamon, nutmeg, finely ground black pepper and ground ginger to the peaches before blanketing them with the batter. Other than that, I left well enough alone.
I am a fan of simple, rustic desserts, and this recipe is a bit fussier than making a simple crisp. But, you know what? It is really pretty, extremely delicious…and the smell?? Fantastic!
I would say that this recipe is a cross between an upside-down cake and a tarte tatin…give it a try before all that beautiful stone fruit is gone until next summer.
Peach Upside-Down Cake
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
4 ripe peaches, peeled, halved and cut into ½-inch thick slices
cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and ginger (or your favorite blend of spices), optional
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry or unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons raw sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
For the topping: in a 10-inch cast iron pan, melt the butter over medium heat; add in the brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is foamy and pale, 3-4 minutes. (Mine went right past pale and never looked back - I aimed for a dark, smoky caramel instead.) Remove from heat and arrange peach slices in concentric circles over the topping, set aside.
For the cake: adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer at medium speed. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, continue beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Beat in the yolks and vanilla (scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if necessary); reduce speed to low and add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately in 3 or 4 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, until the batter is just smooth.
Beat the egg whites in the large bowl of a standing mixer at low speed until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high; beat to soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; continue to beat to stiff peaks. Fold a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula to lighten.
Fold into the remaining whites until no white streaks remain. Gently pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly on top of the fruit, being careful not to dislodge the fruit.
Bake until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake (but not the fruit) comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
Rest the cake on a wire cooling rack for 2 minutes. Slide a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a serving platter (larger than pan) over the pan and hold tightly. Invert the cake onto the platter. Carefully remove the cast iron pan. If any fruit sticks to the pan bottom, remove and position it on top of the cake.