There are lots of peach-tastic things happening in my kitchen lately. The peaches at the farmers’ market are just perfect at the moment, and I find that I kinda daydream about them throughout the day. Well, I should say that they’re perfect for about 24 hours… and then they cross the line to moldy, mushy mess practically while you watch. But when you get ‘em at just the right time, peaches cannot be beat. I recently made a most delicious Peach-Vanilla Bean Pie (still working on the blog!), which I loved so much that I was very excited to make Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake for this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe from the Booze chapter of Baked Elements. The trouble was, I was having ankle surgery the day after I made that pie. And yet, I was really hoping that somehow I could be on my feet long enough to make this cake a couple of weeks later. Oh, and I had to get the peaches, which, let me tell you, is a much bigger expedition on crutches! Some might say I’m a little obsessed, but I choose to think of it as… tenacious. I managed to pick up some gorgeous organic farm peaches– I was rather pleased with myself, I have to admit.
Now, actually making the cake was a different story. Things I learned: it is not a good idea to climb on a stepladder on crutches, baking takes at least twice as long when you can’t walk properly, and cooked peach skins are icky. Even though I ended up with an extremely swollen ankle after I was done, it felt so good to be baking again after weeks without touching flour and sugar. This summer’s peach desserts may forever be linked in my memory to ankle surgery, but the joy of eating homemade desserts has made the recovery and cabin fever more tolerable!
I’ve never made an upside-down cake of any kind– it never sounded particularly appealing to me. Or maybe that’s because I always think of pineapple upside-down cakes, which makes me think of other pineapple-inspired foods like Hawaiian pizza, the idea of which grosses me out. (I like my pineapple freshly cut and eaten, or grilled with brown sugar, thankyouverymuch.) But if I was going to make any kind of upside-down cake, the idea of a peach one sounded intriguing, especially considering the excellent aforementioned peaches at this time of year.
There are a few steps to this cake: making the whiskey caramel, slicing and layering the peaches, and making a chiffon-style cake batter. It’s not terribly difficult, though (not to belabor the point) a much greater effort on crutches! The caramel is a simple mixture of butter, dark brown sugar (always a good sign), and whiskey– I used Bushmills. I was concerned that the whiskey would make for a very boozy cake, but I needn’t have worried.
When I made that heavenly peach pie a few weeks back, the recipe recommended blanching and shocking the peaches in order to easily remove the skins, which also begins the peach-softening process. This recipe didn’t include such a step, and because I had to minimize the amount of time spent on my feet, I decided to just follow the recipe and use raw peach slices with skins on. They were extremely pretty nestled in the whiskey caramel, but that’s where the charm ended, as discussed below. To add this extra step, cut an ‘X’ on the bottom of each peach, dunk them in boiling water for a few minutes, then immediately plunge them into an ice bath. This should loosen the skins so that you can simply slip them off. Though it creates a few extra dirty dishes, I assure you that it’s worthwhile to do this.
The cake batter was a fairly standard chiffon-style white cake infused with whiskey, in which you mix the dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed butter, sugar, and egg yolks; then fold in beaten egg whites to lighten the mixture. Buttermilk, in my experience, generally leads to delicious things– it imparts tenderness and richness to baked goods, so I was happy to see it on the ingredient list! I did make one slight alteration: I can’t stand almond extract, so I bumped up the vanilla another ¼ teaspoon as a substitute.
Whipping egg whites, however, is not my forté, so making chiffon cake always makes me nervous– I rarely feel like I’ve got the right texture. Fortunately, the finished batter had a pleasingly smooth consistency, and I felt good about it as I poured it over the whiskey-peach layer waiting in my cake pan.
The cake baked up beautifully in 43 minutes, just under the recommended baking time. It was a handsome brown all over with slightly darker edges, and it puffed up a bit over the top of the pan– and my kitchen smelled wonderful! I let the cake cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, during which it sunk a tiny bit in the middle, but once I unmolded and turned it out, it was perfectly level. It came out of the pan easily and intact, but be careful on this step– the bottom (peach top) of the cake is literally steaming hot!
The cake is elegant with its peach and brown sugar crown– lovely for a summery special occasion! Based on the photo in the cookbook, I thought the top of the cake would look more gooey, but it looked more like the caramel had soaked into the cake. No matter, my enthusiasm was not dampened.
Once the cake had cooled almost to room temperature, I happily dipped my knife into the whiskey-peach topping. The skins-on peaches were difficult to cut through, and the slices got dragged with the knife instead of being cut cleanly. Not a deal-breaker, but removing the skins should eliminate this problem.
The cake underneath the peaches is light and fluffy, and I’m thinking that it could be a good base for lots of cakes, minus the whiskey. Finally, I had to decide what to top the cake with… decisions, decisions. The book suggests a dollop of whiskey-infused whipped cream, a drizzle of whiskey caramel (should you feel inclined to make an extra batch), or vanilla ice cream. The obvious choice for me was… ice cream– I mean, really. It was a great opportunity to try some artisan vanilla, and there was one at Whole Foods that immediately caught my eye: High Road Vanilla Fleur de Sel! Are you kidding me?! I had coincidentally been researching vanilla salt for another upcoming recipe, so this was a no-brainer. (And incidentally, this company makes some mind-blowing flavors– I can’t wait to try others!)
So how did this fruity, boozy, fluffy concoction taste? It depends on the day. My initial tasting was downright *splendid*– so many delicious and perfectly layered flavors, complemented by the dense, creamy ice cream. The whiskey contributed a subtle smokiness and depth, but was not overpoweringly boozy, and the sweetness of the peaches and caramel bestowed a lovely contrast. This cake recipe just might be the perfect “white cake” that I’ve been searching for for years– you know, the one that mimics boxed cake mix with its bright whiteness and fluffy texture (but tastes so much better), and plays nice with an infinite palate of frostings. Yes, I think this is that elusive cake!
The only thing I would change about this overall recipe is to blanch and peel those peaches– the skins were icky in taste and texture. Also, the peaches had a little too much bite– I would have liked them to be a touch softer, which blanching would achieve. A couple of my fellow BSMers did blanch their fruit and enjoyed the result, so I would highly recommend this step.
Now, I say that the taste “depends on the day” because, as the recipe says, this cake is best eaten the day it’s made. On the second day, the texture had degraded to a surprising degree– the topping was gummy and the cake, soggy. The moral of the story is, make this wickedly yummy cake and share it right away!
The recipe for Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake can be found by visiting Baked Sunday Mornings. See how the other bakers liked it while you’re there!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.