Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peach Cake

My family has unquestionably been the largest beneficiaries of my baking in terms of quantity and variety. But there is one girlfriend in particular - let's call her "Dr. V" - who has received more cakes in her honor over a 3 year period than any single person in my family or my life. She is a very dear friend, and my baking for her is a reflection of how I feel about our friendship. I do have a list - albeit short - of other friends just as precious to me for whom I would be honored to have embarked on this baking. Yet for reasons mostly of geography but also of less condensed life events, Dr. V has enjoyed cakes for: a bridal shower, a wedding, a birthday, a baby shower, another baby shower (same baby!), and now a 35th birthday.

Being July in Washington, I looked to peaches for inspiration, as they are fresh, local, and truly delicious right now. To my dismay of a classic birthday cake eater, the only recipes I could find for peach cakes were coffee cake-style with crumb toppings, or upside-down cake-style with cooked fruit on top, or maybe the rare 'throw-some-diced-fruit-in-the-filling' variety. I wanted peaches right in the cake, and no soggy chunks that would weigh down the batter or make the slices fall apart. A good 8-10 pages into to Google searching, including spot-checks of some of my preferred baking blogs, I realized my love for Dr. V was heading deeper than just baking... I was going to have to design my own recipe. 

I looked away from the laptop for just a moment before a golden yellow sphere (with just a hint of rosy blush) went off in my head. Back in January I easily incorporated 2 pounds of fresh fruit right into the cake batter by means of sauce. My grandmother had requested an applesauce cake for her birthday and I made apple butter to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavors of the fresh fruit. Couldn't that technique work just as well with peaches instead of apples?

Ask yourself that question, or just keep reading. I (and Dr. V!) found the answer to be "yes!"

I cooked up a sauce using the basic recipe for the apple butter, and then swapped it into Warren Brown's cake recipe, tweaking the spices a bit to be more summer and less fall. The result was dense and moist, but not at all gummy, and delightfully peachy. I used my favorite white-chocolate buttercream frosting, and strawberry cream-cheese frosting lightened with whipped cream to fill the layers. But it would also be excellent with whipped cream sweetened with peach schnappes or perhaps even a meringue buttercream if you like it, but doesn't need anything too sweet. A few fresh peach slices for decoration, or layered in between would be wonderful.

Peach "Butter"*

makes 2 cups

4 large peaches, about 2 pounds, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar (more if peaches are not very ripe)
1 hunk (~ 1") candied ginger
4 allspice berries

Peel peaches and cut into eigths. It is easiest to peel if you blanch the fruit first by dipping for 10 seconds into boiling water and then dunking into ice water. Mix with remaining ingredients in heavy saucepan, cover and simmer until fruit is very soft, 20-25 minutes. Remove spice berries and whole ginger and puree fruit with an immersion blender until very smooth. Continue to heat uncovered at a simmer, stirring regularly to prevent burning, until consistency is thick.

Sauce keeps refridgerated for at least two weeks.

* From what I can tell through various websites, there isn't much difference between a "sauce" and a "butter" or even a "puree." I assume it is generally accepted that a sauce will have somewhat more liquid and a butter will have been cooked down to slightly thicker consistency. But the ingredients are pretty much the same, so the difference is basically how long they have been cooked.

Peach butter

Peach Cake
based on Applesauce Cake from Warren Brown's United Cakes of America
5 ounces unsalted butter, softened
15 ounces sugar
3 eggs
12 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peach butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, preferably with removable bottoms (or line pans with parchment).

Combine butter and sugar in stand mixer and beat until well creamed. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Mix together milk, vanilla, and apple butter in one small bowl, and dry ingredients separately in another bowl. Add to butter mixture alternately in 3 additions. Divide evenly between prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until tops are golden and start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert to racks and cool completely.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream
from Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible

9 ounces white chocolate (any kind you like the taste of - I prefer Lindt; Ghiradelli and Guittard are also good)
12 ounces softened cream cheese (while I really don't understand why, I've read multiple times that Philadelphia brand is really the only one that will incorporate best in frostings and cheese cakes)
6 ounces softened butter
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeeze lemon juice

Melt the chocolate and allow to cool. Beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Beat in cooled chocolate, then butter and lemon juice until desired consistency.

Strawberry Filling
I had some of this strawberry cream cheese frosting in the freezer which was good, but very sweet. So I whipped up about 1/2 cup of plain whipping cream and blended it with about 1/4 cup of the strawberry frosting to make a light and fruity but not overly sweet filling that went very well with the peaches.


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