It is taking EVERY OUNCE OF RESTRAINT I HAVE NOT TO INTERRUPT THIS POST ENTIRELY TO RAVE ABOUT AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE, which started last night. But I won’t. [Lies — go to the end of the post and watch the trailer. It’s freaking GLORIOUS!]
Okay, real blog now.
I posted a picture of my Peach Pound-Bundt Cake with Streusel Center and I was asked to share the recipe. Kind of scary for me, but, I’m doing it because you should do things that scare you.
This cake turned out to be super-delicious and incredibly moist, somewhere between a pudding and a cake, though it held shape. It was a huge hit withe the three households between whom I divided it, one of which family decided it was a perfect breakfast rather than dessert. I think it works for either. Or, both.
Okay, it is only fair to warn you before you even think about following one of my recipes, I cook much like I write: From years of experimenting and playing around and, as Joni Mitchell wrote: “You imitate the best / and the rest you memorize.” That’s how I learned to act, to sing, to direct, to produce, to teach, to write, to edit, and, to cook.
It’s how I live my life now, too, and if you are NOT living this way — and I know not everyone can — I highly recommend you TRY to find a way, one day, or, even now and then, to do so. There is nothing like freeing yourself to be other.
But, caveat, as many joyful outcomes as I have had, they’ve been earned by also suffering through some spectacular failures; me playing Riff in West Side Story, my completely uninspired production of Bye, Bye Birdie, apparently my first novel, and many disastrous batches of fried chicken — I just can’t seem to get it right — and a couple (okay, more than a couple) batches of curdled icing and crappy, too-short crusts that went right into the trash before I finally mastered those two skills. (Note to those who fail at crusts — replace the water with vodka. Seriously. In the pastry, not in your water bottle. Although . . . )
So, what I’m saying is, approach this with joyful acceptance that however it comes out, it’s meant to be that way and it’s okay.
STEP 1) GET MIXED
1&1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
STEP 2) BEAT AND ADDS
2 sticks butter SOFTENED (I always use salted. Sorry purists.)
1&1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup regular sugar
4 egg yolks
1&1/2 tsp almond extract
STEP 3) MIX IN
1/2 cup peach greek yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk
STEP 4) FOLD IN (previously whipped to soft peaks and this happens AFTER the addition of the flour mixture)
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tbs sugar
STEP 5) STIR IN (prepared the night before is best)
4 cups of chopped peaches
1 tbs cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup peach liqueur
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbs CAKE flour (tossed RIGHT before putting in batter on day of)
1/2 cup regular flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbs cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick COLD butter, cubed
leftover juices strained from peaches in Step 5
2 cups peach preserves (I buy local, Catoctin Orchard, national brands too thin)
1/4 cup Chambord
1/4 cup (or more, up to you) peach liqueur
1 tbs almond extract
2 tbs cornstarch (maybe more, have to see)
(possibly some light brown sugar and/or regular sugar, you’ll have to play by ear)
sprinkling of regular or extra fine sugar &
1/4 cup (or so) confectioners sugar in a sifter
FIRST: The night BEFORE you are baking the cake, set out 3 sticks of butter and 4 eggs so they naturally come to room temperature. Also, I recommend that you NOW, the night before, check your pantry and refrigerator and make sure you have ALL the ingredients you need.
NOW, MEANING THE NIGHT BEFORE: Go to ingredients in STEP 5. Peel and chop your peaches. A note about the peaches. We have a number of marvelous local orchards and fruit stands, and the one I visit on Thursdays with my mom after we have been to her weekly hair appointment has a table full of “seconds” — meaning fruits and vegetables that are either not pretty enough or too ripe to sell as first choices. They are MUCH more affordable and in the case of this recipe, you want peaches to be ripe, but not TOO TOO ripe or they go to mush. I bought seconds because they were less than half the price and the recipe calls for peeling and chopping them, so it doesn’t matter what they look like. And, as someone who falls firmly into the seconds designation myself, I’m all for appreciating the lesser than.
So, peel your peaches, cut them into pieces about an inch big. Not so small they go mush, but not so large you’d put them on your cereal. Add the next five ingredients and toss well BUT DON’T STIR SO HARD YOU MUSH THE PEACHES! Now, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. We’ll drain them and then toss them in the flour TOMORROW, right before we add them to the batter.
This is when you go to the grocery or liquor store if you find you are missing any of tomorrow’s ingredients. Okay, you’re back from stores, you’re set, sit down with a good book, read, and have a glass of wine. Or some Chambord, you’re not going to need the whole bottle.
NOW: MEANING THE DAY OF Get your bundt pan ready. I suppose you could use a pound cake/angel food cake pan but the end product wouldn’t be nearly as pretty. I am overkill on making sure things come out of the pans, so, I spray the pan with vegetable oil FIRST (canola oil, store brand spray), let it sit about five minutes, and then really massage the pan with softened butter — lots and lots of butter, you want the pan REALLY coated. This is butter NOT included in the ingredients.
Turn the oven on to 350. (Note, my oven is WILDLY inconsistent, so I will often bake things at 25 degrees lower than the recipe calls for. You have to know your own oven and how it treats cakes.)
NOW – CHARLIE METHODS: I have a very small kitchen and organization is not just helpful, it’s an absolute necessity in order to function at all in the tiny space.
SO, I sift together ALL the ingredients in STEP 1 first, and set that bowl aside. You can either sift them, literally using a sifter, or, you can cheat it, which I do because I have YET to find a sifter that works the way my aunt’s did when I baked with her as a child — it was fast and easy — while sifters today seem to take forever and they trouble my sort of arthritic hands — so, I put all the ingredients in the bowl and go at it for a while with a whisk until I’m sure it’s really wedded.
NEXT: I measure out the sugars from Step 2 and mix them together using a whisk, then I measure out the yogurt and buttermilk from Step 3, separate the eggs (you’re going to have an extra white, I throw it away), and whisk/beat the egg yolks briefly and then whisk the almond extract into those, set aside, and get out the cream of tartar and sugar and the measuring spoons needed for those, and then with a hand mixer I get ready the ingredients of Step 4.
BEATING THE EGG WHITES: Get out your hand mixer. You have your 3 egg whites in a small-ish bowl, room enough to grow and fluff but not so big the whites are a flat-ish pancake shape on the bottom of the bowl. Beat them at high speed and when they start to firm a bit but have not yet reached peaking stage slowly add the cream of tartar and sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form. SOFT PEAKS mean when you lift the beaters the egg whites follow the beaters up but then fold over slightly, not stiff and spiky like 80’s punk-poseur hair-dos.
Set this aside.
NEXT: STREUSEL — by hand baby! Throw ALL the streusel ingredients in a BIG DEEP bowl and work them with your hands. Just face it from the get go — a spoon is never going to work, neither will a pastry blender — this is a big fun ingredient orgy gang-bang we’re having. USE YOUR HANDS. You need to work and play and act like you’re a kid digging around in sand or mud or clay and push and smash and generally enjoy the crazy fun of making all of the nine separate ingredients into one mass of different sized clumps. If you do it right, the experience will turn out to be such a sensual sort of thrill you won’t want to stop. But, STOP. Set it aside.
OKAY – THE BUTTER BEATING: You’ve put the butter in your stand mixer. It’s softened because YOU LEFT IT OUT OVERNIGHT, RIGHT? And you start the mixer on low until the butter is no longer sticks, but, rather, spread about, and then turn that sucker up, all the way to high. Beat that butter like it’s that neighbor-soccer-player who lived about 300 feet from you in high school and called you f*gg*t in front of his friends at school then snuck into your room at night and screwed around with you. What? That didn’t happen to you? That was just me? Damn. Anyway — beat the butter at least four or five minutes until it’s really a new, lighter, air-filled consistency.
soccer playing sucker has been taught his lesson butter has been beaten fluffy, you add the sugars (which have already been mixed together) slowly, a very thin stream of sugar, over the course of about two or three minutes — DO NOT DUMP IT IN ALL AT ONCE — you want the butter and sugars to meet cute, gently, getting slowly to know one another before they consummate completely. NOW, you will do the same thing with the egg yolks/almond extract (which you’ve already whisked, slightly beaten together) adding it in 4 parts, slowly, over the course of about two minutes. Control is the issue here. Let us not prematurely spurt these into the batter we are forming, this is a delicate operation. Take your time. Slow it down. Be gentle. Hold back. AND BY THE WAY, SCRAPE THE BOWL AFTER EACH ADDITION.
Now, turn off the mixer. Lift the beater. Add the yogurt. Add the buttermilk. Lower the beater. Mix slowly, on low, these ingredients into your fluffy, lovely sugar and egg yolk mixture. It shouldn’t take long, maybe thirty seconds.
When well mixed, lift and scrape the beater. Remove. GENTLY fold your already beaten egg whites (from Step 4) into the batter. Fold means turning them, not stirring them, so your sort of wrapping them around the batter from top to bottom, gently, DO NOT FORCE THE BLEND, it must happen peacefully, caressingly.
NOW — get the ingredients from Step 5 out of the refrigerator where they’ve been steeping overnight, all the parts becoming a new and delicious whole. VERY IMPORTANT! Drain the liquid from the peaches BUT DRAIN IT INTO A BOWL AND SAVE IT! (we’re going to use it as an ingredient in the glaze).
Once the excess liquid has been drained, toss the peach concoction with 3 tablespoons of cake flour — gently, don’t crush the peaches, don’t overwork it, just get them evenly floured — they won’t LOOK floured because the liquid remaining will mostly absorb it, but they ARE floured. Trust. Flouring them helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter once it’s poured — you want to try to keep them spread evenly through the cake.
NOW, you are going to fold/stir 3/4 of the floured peaches into the batter. Again, don’t bruise the batter. Be gentle. I use a rubber spatula for all my folding and gentle batter additions, the benefit of which is also you can be gently scraping the bottom of the bowl and the sides as you fold, hitting the entirety of the surface, making certain there are no deposits or pockets of dis-included batter into which all the ingredients haven’t been fully incorporated. There are few things worse than emptying your batter into a cake pan and finding out too late you’re dumping in clumps of flour or different textured batter.
SO YOUR BATTER IS COMPLETE!
Okay, here’s where you either need to have your cake pan on a table around which you can walk 360 degrees or you need someone to help, so they can turn the pan as you pour in the batter — BUT ONLY HALF THE BATTER!
Once you’ve poured in that half — you distribute the streusel you earlier made evenly round the pan, LEAVING A SPACE AROUND THE EDGE OF THE PAN — you do NOT want the streusel touching the outside edge of the cake pan — this is so that when the cake bakes you will have a solid cake with the streusel inside as a surprise. If you put the streusel all the way to the edge, when you de-pan the cake, trust me, you will have a clearly demarcated TOP and BOTTOM and you do NOT want this.
Once the streusel is strewn, top it with the remaining peaches — also NOT GOING TO THE SIDES OF THE PAN.
Now, finish pouring in the batter. Smooth it out with a spatula. The pan will be HEAVY and FULL.
Because my oven is WAY hotter on the bottom than it is in the top, and because the smoke alarm in this apartment is ridiculously sensitive, I put a cookie sheet on a lower rack in the oven and pour water into it. It keeps the air in the oven moist and helps avoid over-browning on the top, and, in my case, if the batter overflows (which it has on occasion) it flows into a pan of water rather than onto the oven bottom, burning and smoking and causing the incessant and annoying sireny-whine of the smoke alarm that SO upsets my neighbors, none of whom, apparently, ever use their ovens.
OKAY — tricky part. I baked the cake for one hour. It was nowhere near done. I covered the top with no-stick aluminum foil and baked for another half an hour — still the wood-skewer came out a little wetter than I thought advisable — HOWEVER — because of the peach layer in the middle, the skewer is NEVER going to come out completely dry, AND, if you notice the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan that doesn’t mean it’s done — it means it is OVERDONE — the cake shouldn’t pull from the sides of the pan EVER (any cake) until you’ve taken it out of the oven.
So, the time this cake worked best, I ended up baking it for 1 and 1/2 hours at 350 and then turned the oven down to 300 and left it in another 20 minutes. You’re going to have to play with yours. It depends, too, on whether or not you use a pan that is dark lined or white lined — and how thick your pan is. Do you use cheap pans or nice, heavy ones made of good, even heat conducting materials?
NOT SAYING YOU HAVE TO BUY EXPENSIVE STUFF — I don’t have expensive cake pans — I’m saying you have to figure out your variables and play baking by ear — or, rather, smell, feel, sense.
NOW, ONCE YOU PUT THE CAKE IN THE OVEN – clean the kitchen. Do the dishes. Put everything away. Bleach the cutting board. Clean the counters. Make sure both your mixers are really clean — having dirty beaters is poison to recipes, and just vile. And get out your cooling rack. Then, have some coffee. (It’s not time for wine yet. Just hold your horses — or, goblets.)
ONCE YOU TAKE THE CAKE OUT OF THE OVEN … it has to cool for AT LEAST two hours in the pan. DO NOT TRY TO RUSH THIS BY PUTTING IT IN REFRIGERATOR — seriously, it screws up the texture of the cake and I am NOT kidding. I don’t care what real chefs and bakers tell you, TRUST ME.
My dear ones, cooling the cake, like folding the egg whites and peaches into the batter, like all of baking, has to be approached with deep breaths, patience, and making sure to allow time and space for the magic and miracle to happen. The time spent cooling in the pan finishes the cake, enhances the feel and the flavor, and is part of the process. Like growing up, like making love, like writing, like becoming best friends, like anything worth doing — baking takes time, takes careful attention, take desire to do it right and well and with love, to make with your time and your energies something worth sharing.
SO, NOW, this is where I sit down and have a cup of coffee, or eat some lunch, or do something relaxing. The cake is out. It awaits the glaze. But don’t make it right away. You have time.
So, you’ve relaxed. Read. Noshed. Text-msg-ed pals. Whatever it is you do, and it is time for glaze-making. Put the first five ingredients in a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Stir with wooden spoon until all the ingredients are incorporated and then STOP STIRRING. Watch the pot until it starts to bubble/boil — and once it does, count to a slow 10, then stir and see how thick it is. Stop. Let it bubble/boil again. Stir. Repeat five or six times. Lift the pan and swirl, seeing how thick it is — we’re going for a caramel-y sort of effect. Somewhere in this process, when I see it start to change color and consistency, I add the cornstarch. I know you’re supposed to mix cornstarch with liquid first, but I don’t. I just toss it in and stir. It dissolves just fine.
NOTE! Here’s the thing — my cooking methods are scientifically un-sound. I’m not a chemist. I’m not a trained chef or baker. I just make shit up. I screw around with ingredients, I tweak CONSTANTLY — this is like the twentieth version of pieces of this recipe and every recipe I make is the product of all the recipes I’ve made before it which constitute my cooking frame of reference — meaning, I combine recipes into new formations all the time — borrowing from all sorts of people and places and memory of my aunt or mom or friends cooking. And if I ever do make this again — I’ll only sort of kind of maybe follow this recipe. I’m thinking I might like to use raspberry preserves instead of peach. Or, a lemon glaze might add a nice layer of flavor. Or, make a glaze using ginger beer as a base, and get some really tart deep tang. Point being — do what makes you happy — and if an idea comes into your head as you’re cooking — TRY IT!
Okay, where was I? Oh, here — listen, I do this bubble/boil add the corn starch thing for maybe ten minutes. Then I turn off the heat — the glaze is NOT as thick as it’s going to be when it cools. And on this cool, unlike with the cake, I do cheat — I put it in the freezer for about five minutes and then pull it out and let it cool some more, room temperature-y kind of thing, and check the consistency.
TIME TO DE-PAN AND GLAZE!
Using a knife or baby spatula — loosen the edges of the cake from around the top of the pan — DON’T DIG TOO FAR INTO THE PAN AND RUIN THE LOOK OF THE CAKE.
Put a plate on top of the pan. Turn the pan over holding the plate-lid in place. If the fates are on your side, when you lift the pan away, the cake will stay on the plate and be sitting there all gorgeous just waiting to be further gilded.
Using your fingers — sprinkle a VERY LIGHT coating of regular granulated or super fine sugar all over the cake — as in dusting it with snow.
Using a teaspoon (or, that’s what I use, you do you) — drizzle the glaze all over the cake in whatever pattern suits your fancy. I usually start in the valleys between the bundt peaks — I like it to run down the outside and inside of cake so there is a complete pool surrounding the outside of the cake on the plate, and the center of the bundt emptiness.
Some people like a lot of glaze. Some people like only a little. Some people don’t want any glaze at all — and this cake works just fine with no glaze.
Using a sifter — once I’ve sugared and glazed, I now do a light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar over the entire thing.
VOILA! We have made a cake.
That’s it. 3500 words later. It’s not nearly as difficult as it seems. It’s actually a pretty easy cake. And it was CRAZY delicious.
Now, my dears, I must go. This took WAAAAYYYYYY too long and it’s Thursday, which means I am with my mom, running to her hair appointment and wherever else she has it in her head to go. And I’m trying to finish reading a novel from the library. And I’m working in my head on two book-blog posts about books I love, so I’m having to really be careful and re-read and do those justice, and I’m being a first-reader type for a friend’s manuscript, and I have to fit the gym in each day (I went this morning at 5am), and AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE started last night and I am in love with it, of course, and need to re-watch the episode, and tonight is eviction night on BIG BROTHER, and — I still have to make dinner tonight during all of this.
But, seriously — AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE.
So, here I am, going. Happy baking and let me know if you make this. And how your version comes out.