Fall is coming…
The long hot summer is nearly gone…
And fresh peaches are still in season on the Eastern Shore…
The key to a successful dish is often the proper tool. So when a recipe calls for a certain pan, USE IT, there is a reason. I recently prepared a caramel sauce in an iron skillet. Not only was it incredibly easy to clean but the caramel would have burned otherwise. A stainless pan would have been ruined and the sauce a disaster.
A story about my cast-iron skillet- it belonged to my paternal grandmother who unfortunately I never had the pleasure to meet. According to my mother, who inherited the pan and has now passed it along to me, Grampsy made the BEST fried chicken with lard (yes, that’s what I said) and then gravy from the drippings in this pan. A true southerner. Anyway, Grampsy’s pan is so perfectly seasoned with age AND it has a lid (frankly, it’s the best pan that I own).
I cannot duplicate her fried chicken recipe as no one seems to remember it in our family AND the heirloom family cookbook is MISSING! I recently made an upside-down peach cake in this pan and as I said earlier, had I not used the proper pan, the recipe would have turned out differently.
Fresh peaches are slightly firm to the touch, smooth, yet furry and without blemishes. Hold one to your nose and smell that distinguishable fragrance. Like so many fruits, there are many wonderful uses for peaches; however, I would like to share with you a very easy and sinfully sweet upside-down cake. Peaches were one of my father’s (Grampsy’s son) favorite fruits and I know he would have eaten the entire cake by himself.
Ali’s Peach Tatin
• 4 medium peaches, unpeeled and cut into ¼ inch thick wedges
• 2 T. fresh lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
• 1 cup cake flour
• ¾ tsp. baking powder
• ¼ tsp. baking soda
• 1- ¼ cups granulated sugar
• ¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
• ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
• 1 vanilla bean** or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 2 large eggs
• ½ cup sour cream
• Sweetened whipped cream for topping, if desired
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if the cake spills over in your oven it will make a huge mess and you will rue the day you ever read my recipe). Toss peaches with lemon juice. Sift together flour, baking powder and soda.
2. Cook ½ cup granulated sugar in a 10 inch (mine is 8 and makes a thicker cake) cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until sugar melts and turns a gorgeous amber color. At this point the skillet will be scalding hot- remove from the heat with a pot holder. DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO LICK THE SPOON-the sugar is molten lava at this point and you will lose part of your tongue. Immediately add ¼ cup butter, stirring like a mad man or woman. Spread the caramelized sugar evenly in the skillet and sprinkle with brown sugar. Arrange peaches in a concentric circle over the mixture, overlapping as needed.
3. **If using a vanilla bean (they’re expensive and although argued by many, I don’t really taste a huge difference; however, you will not have lovely black specks of vanilla in your cake- woohoo!) split it lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat the seeds with the remaining ¾ cup granulated sugar and ½ cup of butter at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended. Add sour cream, blend. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating at low speed, scraping the bowl as needed. Spoon the batter over the peaches and spread to cover. This cake is not thick so don’t be surprised by the small amount of batter. Place skillet on the baking sheet.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, until golden brown and the toothpick comes out clean from the center (handy little trick- been around a long time). Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes then run a knife around the edges to loosen.
5. If there is any excess liquid from the pan, pour it into a measuring cup and reserve (don’t worry if there isn’t any- extra liquid depends on the juiciness of the peaches.
6. Invert the cake onto a decorative plate and drizzle any reserved liquid on top. Cool, cut into wedges and add a dollop of whipped cream. Immediately wow your guests!
My husband does not have a sweet tooth nor does he normally eat dessert but somehow he cannot pass up this up when I serve it at dinner parties. Call it what you want and make it your own…
*You can find old cast-iron pans in antique stores that have been seasoned perhaps for centuries but re-season it anyway. If you buy a new pan, season it prior to use by scrubbing it well with water and kosher salt, wipe it with shortening and place it upside down on a baking sheet for one hour in a 350 degree oven. The fat works itself into the crevices to create a wonderful non-stick pan like no other. Just be sure never to wash it with soap or marinate in the skillet- it will ruin your ‘seasoning’.