i recently read Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby. The book is not about food, but nonetheless begins with the story of a pile of apricots that arrived at the author’s doorstep from her ailing mother’s home. Solnit spreads them on a sheet, observing them in various states of greenness, ripeness, and decay, too many to eat at once. She likens her pile of apricots to the Impossible Task of fairy tales: the water to be carried in a sieve; the pile of seeds and grains to be sorted in a single night. Doing something with all those apricots before they went to waste became more than just a matter of practicality, it was a puzzle to solve, the feat that proves you’re worthy enough to marry the princess, the story that allows Scherezade to live another day.In any case, this has made me approach my dining room table with a bit more sense of awe lately. We’ve been the recipient of an unwieldy windfall of stone fruit, too: straw to be spun into gold.Time and Virginia humidity are not kind to peaches and nectarines. We took home the fruit last Saturday, and by yesterday, a few of them were slumping, molding, oozing liquid. I chopped and pitted and froze and suspended some of them in syrup, but it’s hard to be around sweet, ripe peaches for more than a few hours without wanting something for now. And so, cake.
Peach & cornmeal upside-down cake
Adapted just barely from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living, 2008
I’m a bit tired of herbs-in-baked-goods, but I included the lavender here anyway, and it was lovely. The cake will still be good without it, though.
- 5 1/2 ounces room temperature unsalted butter, divided
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 3 ripe (but firm) peaches, skins on, pitted, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
- 1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lavender
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet (both will work, but a 10-inch pan will yield a thicker cake), melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the sugar in the skillet, and cook it, stirring, until it is browned and bubbling, 2-3 minutes. Arrange the peach slices in the skillet to cover the bottom, and cook them, leaving them undisturbed, until they begin to soften, 5-10 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat.
- In a bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, lavender, and salt.
- In another medium mixing bowl, cream remaining butter and sugar together with a hand mixer or stand mixer until pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and cream and mix on low until combined.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Scoop the batter, which will be quite thick, into the skillet with the layer of peach slices in the bottom. Smooth over the top of the batter with a spatula.
- Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the top is just beginning to be golden, the middle doesn’t jiggle, and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Allow the skillet to cool for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife or offset spatula around the edges of the cake to loosen, and then carefully invert the skillet onto a plate. Bang on the skillet bottom, once inverted, to encourage any lingering pieces to dislodge themselves in the right location.
- (This is the first upside down cake I’ve ever made that inverted beautifully and easily—I hope that luck translates to all of you!)
- Best when served immediately, but we had some at room temperature that was still quite good.