Saturday, August 04, 2007

Just peachy

It doesn’t matter if I walk into a shop with a strict list of ingredients, I will inevitably walk out with something I never knew I needed until that precise moment. That’s why my cupboards are crammed with crap, er, esoteric foodstuffs.

Anyhoo, what I like to call the ‘supermarket zombie effect’ – brain switched off, automatic pilot engaged as you wander numbly round the aisles to the strains of muzak and whinging children – kicked in the other day at the supermarket and I left with 10 peaches. (Two packs for 4 euro! Bargain! But how does that work for the farmers?)

Once I’d returned home and re-engaged my brain, I examined my haul and I’ve got to say that I didn’t have high hopes for the little suckers - most of my impulse buys turn out to be bad ideas that end up mouldering in the cupboard, fridge or a bowl somewhere until they look like science experiments. However, probably because it’s peach season, these ones were really pretty good. More than that, they were excellent. Yay for seasonality and eating things at their proper time.

Normally, when I’m lucky enough to stumble across perfectly ripe fruit, I like to eat it in its raw state, juices messily dribbling down my chin (you can’t take me anywhere). So it’s been peaches with everything for the past couple of days. Then my baking gene kicked in and I just had to do something that meant at least a few of those peaches, some flour, sugar and butter would meet up in the oven to perform some kind of sweet alchemy. (Eurgh. Why am I hearing some kind of Barry White-esque tune as I write that? I’m not bloody Allie McBeal.)

Dorie Greenspan to the rescue again (although not from my sudden Barry White problem). I’m really going to have to write some kind of slavishly sycophantic fanmail to this very sweet-sounding lady – all the recipes I’ve tried so far from her latest book has produced amazing results. I’m also going to have to make sure I don’t publish every single recipe from her book online, otherwise her publishers might, understandably enough, get a bit pissed off.

The original recipe is for a winter upside-down cake with cranberries – something I’m bookmarking for the festive season. This version is the alternative she suggests for the summer months and it’s sublime – the already succulent peaches become silky soft, melting on your tongue, and then there’s the lighter-than-expected cinnamon-scented sponge which complements the fruit beautifully…

I love cinnamon a lot – so much so that I usually chuck in some extra when I’m baking. But, bearing in mind how well Dorie’s other recipes have worked so far, I exercised unheard of restraint and just put in the one teaspoon she recommended. And, of course, she’s absolutely right.

Upside-down peach cake from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

You’ll need:

1 cup of plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
A pinch of salt
3 ripe peaches
190g butter at room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup of full-fat milk

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease an 8-inch round (and 2-inch deep) cake pan and place it on a baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and set aside.
3. Melt 80 grams of the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Pour this evenly over the bottom of the cake pan. Set aside.
4. Skin the peaches by dropping them briefly in boiling water. Pit and slice the peaches, then lay them out in a pattern on top of the butter/sugar mix in the cake pan.
5. In a large bowl, beat the remaining 110g of butter until smooth. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and continue to beat until creamy – about 3 minutes.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as you go. Add the vanilla and briefly beat this in too.
7. Using a wooden spoon (or a lower speed on a stand mixer, if you have one), add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Mix in the milk and then the rest of the dry ingredients.
8. Spoon this mixture over the peaches in the cake tin and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
9. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cake is golden and a thin knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
10. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 30 minutes, so that the peachy juices have a chance to settle into the cake.
11. Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate and serve.

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