We wait and wait and wait. First comes the false fruit—attractive but mealy and dry. Then the imports arrive: beautiful and delicious but prohibitively expensive. Finally—just as students are relishing the last golden moments of summer break, we get stone fruit. I know that Roald Dahl is English but I can’t help but think he must have been in California in early September when inspiration for James and the Giant Peach hit. Peaches, nectarines and their varietals are everywhere it seems: luscious, smelling like heaven and cheap!
I my opinion, there are few things more perfect in this world than a beautiful, juicy peach. They really need no accompaniment. However. I really couldn’t resist a recipe I saw on the Cooks Illustrated website for a rustic peach cake (and then of course had to make it again with a little twist).
Like most Cooks Illustrated recipes, this one has a lot of moving parts. The challenge was to create a cake that didn’t get soggy from the extra juices from the peaches. In the original recipe, they leave the skin-on. I decided to remove the skin. Either way works. But, if you want an easy way to remove peach skins, just boil a pan of water and drop the peaches in for about 30 seconds.
When you pull them out, the peach skin will slide right-off. I know, cool huh?
This recipe calls for peach schnapps. Which of course we had to go out and buy because I don’t think I’ve had peach schnapps since I was…well…probably not old enough to be drinking peach schnapps. If you stick with me, I’ll give you some alternative options.
So, the first little trick Cooks Illustrated employs is to pre-bake some of the peaches. Peach chunks get mixed with some schnapps, a little sugar and lemon juice and then baked for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peach wedges get the same boozy marinade.
Once out of the oven, the peach chunks are cooled to room temp. and then tossed with panko crumbs. Again, the idea is to heighten the liquid absorption.
The cake batter is very simple: melted and cooled butter, dark and light sugar, flour, levaning agents and a splash of almond extract. After a thin layer of batter is spread in the pan, the chunks are added. Another layer of cakes goes on top.
And the whole things gets topped with the now fairly inebriated peach wedges. A sprinkle of sugar and the pan goes into the oven.
Once cooked, this simple cake just needs to be un-sprung, cooled and enjoyed.
The integrity of the cake held well for a couple of days. However, by the third day everything started to get a little mushy.
This is a lovely cake and perfect summer dessert. And not a single crocodile tongue on the ingredient list!
Of course, if you don’t happen to have peach schnapps on hand, you could use whiskey.
And you could skip the whole layering step and just mix the peach chunks into the batter.
And, as long as we are breaking rules, might as well make them into cupcake/muffin form.
Definitely a more portable dessert to take to our friends’ house for an afternoon fete during the long Labor Day Weekend.
Oh, and that leftover peach box? The Kitchen Gods will thank you.
Summer Peach Cake
Just slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated, July 1, 2011
Serves 8 to 10
To crush the panko bread crumbs, place them in a zipper-lock bag and smash them with a rolling pin. If you can’t find panko, 1/4 cup of plain, unseasoned bread crumbs can be substituted. Orange liqueur can be substituted for the peach schnapps. If using peak-of-season, farm-fresh peaches, omit the peach schnapps.
- 2 1/2pounds peaches , pitted and cut into 1/2 inch-thick wedges
- 5tablespoons peach schnapps
- 4teaspoons lemon juice
- 6tablespoons plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4teaspoon salt
- 1/2cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 8tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled
- 1/4cup sour cream
- 1 1/2teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/3cup panko bread crumbs , finely crushed
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray. Gently toss 24 peach wedges with 2 tablespoons schnapps, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in bowl; set aside.
- Cut remaining peach wedges crosswise into thirds. Gently toss chunks with remaining 3 tablespoons schnapps, remaining 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in bowl. Spread peach chunks in single layer on prepared sheet and bake until exuded juices begin to thicken and caramelize at edges of sheet, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer sheet to wire rack and let peaches cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
- Spray 9-inch springform pan with vegetable oil spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in bowl. Whisk brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and eggs together in second bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter until combined. Add sour cream, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract; whisk until combined. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
- Transfer half of batter to prepared pan; using offset spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Sprinkle crushed bread crumbs evenly over cooled peach chunks and gently toss to coat. Arrange peach chunks on batter in even layer, gently pressing peaches into batter. Gently spread remaining batter over peach chunks and smooth top. Arrange reserved peach wedges, slightly overlapped, in ring over surface of cake, placing smaller wedges in center. Stir together remaining 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and remaining 1/8 teaspoon almond extract in small bowl until sugar is moistened. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over top of cake.
- Bake until center of cake is set and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool 5 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely, 2 to 3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.
- Replace schnapps with your favorite whiskey (Grand Marnier would also work). Take a shot for yourself, proceed as otherwise directed above.