Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hello, Gorgeous

Or, Let’s Try This Again

I first made this cake two weeks ago, an adaptation of an adaptation of a recipe originally posted by Clotilde Dusouiler of Chocolate & Zucchini. Hers is graciously called “Gâteau de Mamy à la Poire” with a lovely little delve into the name’s story; I’ve dubbed mine simply Stone Fruit Cake because, as much as I love the connotation of someone’s French grandmother’s hand in making my desserts, all I’ve got in way of real history is two versions: one with apple, and one with nectarines.

The first Stone Fruit Cake was a success, made with apples tossed lightly in brown sugar and lemon juice, but it was ugly. I mean, really ugly. Upon its exit from the oven, the cake was quite beautiful: I was amazed at how gracefully the batter rose to a perfect golden hue, and I was full of all sorts of love for the possibilities of French home cooking. Then I tried taking the cake out of the pan, and was terribly disappointed in my apples and myself as everything, batter and fruit, fell apart as I transferred the mess to a plate. Flipped over again (a neat little trick, and a nod to Clotilde’s Mamy), the cake was worth bringing to the table, but not worth bringing out the camera.

The cake’s taste, though, was delicious: simple and nurturing and just the sort of pastry that would make you want to sit down for a proper glass of tea or warm milk with a touch of coffee, even if you don’t normally do that sort of thing. I don’t, but I like that sort of feel in my kitchen, so I decided to try the cake again.

I changed two things about my second Stone Fruit Cake: I used nectarines and a light splash of heavy cream. This is because 1) nectarines were on sale, and 2) I used whole wheat flour, which seems to suck up an obscene amount of moisture (in return giving an extra chewy, tender bite). I often change bits here and there while baking, which I understand is a no-no, but it seems I can’t leave well enough alone. What’s great about this cake, then, is that it’s made for a bit of tampering: following the basic process and proportions of ingredients, you can tweak it to what’s in your kitchen cabinet without sacrificing the simple integrity of a homemade upside-down cake.

This time around, I made sure to grease and flour my pan, which made the removal process so much smoother. A few stubborn nectarines still stuck, but I showed them who was in charge by hastily eating them.

Stone Fruit Cake

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

4 to 5 nectarines, apples, apricots or pears – or a mixture of a few

juice of ½ lemon

1 generous tablespoon brown sugar

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs*

1 tablespoon heavy cream

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly dust with flour a 9-inch cake pan. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

Peel, cut and core your fruit. In a bowl, toss the slices with the lemon juice and brown sugar. Lay the fruit at the bottom of your cake pan.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a separate, larger bowl, cream together the sugar and eggs, then mix in the heavy cream. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until everything is well blended. Pour in the melted butter, and blend again.

Pour the batter evenly over the fruit in the pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cake is puffy and proudly golden.

Here’s the tricky step: after letting the cake rest for a few minutes in its pan (preferably on a cooling rack), carefully invert the cake onto a plate. Its cooked, soft fruit will be face-up. Using another plate, gently flip the cake over again – the fruit will be at the bottom. The cake is tasty warm, delicious at room temperature, and at its best the next day, waiting patiently for you and your cup of tea.


*Baking rules generally stipulate that all ingredients should be at room temperature before you begin. I often don’t plan advanced baking, and as such don’t have a few eggs hanging out, shrugging off their refrigerator chill. I heat up some water in a kettle, though not to a boil, and pour it over my eggs in a small bowl. I let these sit for about ten minutes, and voila! I’ve mastered last-minute domesticity.