Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Praise of the Peach

Is there anything more spellbinding than the warm glow of a freshly blushed peach, brimming with intoxicating fragrance and a taste reminiscent of being a crazy kid, juices to the elbow? One of my most enduring food memories is of seeing a bowl of peak Sun Crest peaches in the pastry kitchen at Chez Panisse. So it is within this stupor that I reach for the peach in pastry. This time I want to take it on a summer fling with the subtle scent of corn, the sweetness of both co-mingling in a perfect vow of earthly splendor. A little bit of State Fair on a plate.

The cornmeal cake recipe comes from a long ago scrap of newspaper featuring the work of the renowned Flo Braker, who knows about all things pastry. And if you haven’t read the works of Mas Masumoto, you really should. He is a third generation organic farmer, grower of the mighty Sun Crest peach, author, poet, community builder. Praise to the peach!

Bench notes:
-Be sure all ingredients are at room temperature for proper mixing and emulsification.
-Peel the peaches or they may impart a blue tinge to the cake. Easiest way to do this is to gently lower the peaches into simmering water for just a few seconds until the skin breaks easily when tugged. Remove immediately and place in an ice bath. Skins release beautifully without damaging the flesh.
-I decided to use a caramel simple syrup rather than the usual butter and brown sugar on the bottom of the ramekins to avoid the fat masking the clean flavor of the fruit.

Cornmeal Peach Upside Down Cake
Caramel simple syrup (recipe below)
4 fresh ripe peaches, peeled and halved

2/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C yellow cornmeal + more for dusting ramekins
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
6 oz unsalted butter @ room temperature
3/4 C sugar
3 eggs @ room temperature
1 yolk @ room temperature
1 t vanilla

Prepare a caramel simple syrup by placing 3/4 C of sugar into a clean pan. Add just enough water to wet the sugar and bring it to a boil. Have 1/2 C water sitting nearby. Continue to boil but watch it carefully. If you see a lot of sputtering collecting on the sides of the pan, wash it down with a quick stroke of a wet brush to prevent crystallization. When the sugar begins to color, stay close. Just as it begins to turn the color of Anchor Steam beer, pull it off quickly and pour in the 1/2 C water you have at your fingertips. This will stop the cooking and prevent it from burning. Be sure to pull it off the heat just before it becomes the color you want because it will continue to darken very quickly. Set the syrup aside and cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 8 4” ramekins and dust with a bit of cornmeal, tapping out excess. Pour about a heaping teaspoon of caramel simple syrup into the bottom of each ramekin or enough to nicely coat the bottom. Reserve any remaining syrup. Place a peach half cut side down on top of the syrup.

Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
Beat butter until smooth and creamy.
Add sugar and beat until the mixture is creamy and light. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time. Be sure to beat well after each addition so the batter properly incorporates each egg. Add vanilla.
Add in dry ingredients and mix until blended.
Spread cake batter evenly into each ramekin, smoothing the tops.
Bake for 20 minutes or just until the cake tests for doneness.
Take in that aroma. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Invert onto plate. Brush with additional syrup.

cake photography courtesy of Jennifer Kanter/Semaphore Fine Preserves & Films


Magpie said...

That sounds divine, and there is a bowl of perfect peaches at home in my kitchen.

Anonymous said...

I've alreay printed out this recipe and can't wait to find some perfect peaches...just reading the recipe made my mouth water!

Anonymous said...

Peach season might be winding down, but if those photos aren't motivation to bring some home before it's too late, nothing is!


Anonymous said...

Every year a client brings me mouth-watering peaches from his orchard - now I'll know what to do with them for once - if I can figure out what a ramekin is.

Anonymous said...

A number of years back I took my young daughter to a pick-your-own peach orchard near Fredericksburg, TX.

Sitting atop my shoulders, she was able to harvest the fruit that shorter folks had missed.

I had great difficulty convincing her that the peaches should go, untasted, into the bag I was holding, but I can now report that dried peach juice is more effective that Brylcreem as a hair tonic if you do not mind the bees.

pastry studio said...

Ahhh, what wonderful comments! I can see I'm not the only one to fall under the Spell of the Peach.

Luckily, each season has its wonders. Stay tuned.