19 July 2010

Really Like Your Peaches

I wait impatiently all year for peach season. Sure, all fruits and veggies are at their prime when eaten freshly picked at the right time of year, but I think peaches are particularly so. To me, summertime is made all the merrier by the fact that it's peach season here in the Texas hill country. I've had California peaches fresh from the orchard and Georgia peaches too, and I have to say with more than a pinch of native pride, give me a Texas peach any day. To my palette anyway, a Texas peach is sweeter, juicier, and somehow just peachier than any other. Lucky for me and the countless other Texas peach fanatics, it's been a banner year.

A few weekends ago some friends and I drove out to an orchard near Fredericksburg, in prime hill country Peach territory, to pick some straight from the source. If you have ever gone berry picking only to be dismayed by how looooooooong it took to fill your bucket or box, you should really try peach picking. In what seemed like a matter of minutes we had picked a peck of big, fat peaches. Actually, we picked about half a bushel which, if you can picture it, is about enough to fill your standard office file box. Even though I shared the box with a friend and ate fresh peaches every day as they began to soften, by last week when the vast majority of them ripened simultaneously, I had a helluva lot of peaches on my hands.

Intent not to waste even one precious peach, I knew I'd have to get a little resourceful. Freezing was an option, but with my luck I'd forget about them and they'd succumb to frost bite--a shameful end for such seasonal treasures. I opted to bake them instead and my tastebuds, and those of several willing dessert guests, are rather pleased with the choice (as for my waistline, well, the jury's still out).

A good number of the blushing yellow fellows found their way into a Peach Pudding Cake, baked last week and consumed with such gusto that I failed to capture its fleeting presence with a photograph. You'll simply have to take my word for it that this dessert is PRIMO. Slices of peaches arranged over the top of rich vanilla cake batter sink down to the bottom when it's baked. The thin sheet cake's center is soft and pudding-like but the high butter content creates a divine crispy edge. It's not the most beautiful dessert to look at, but as with most things important in life, it's not the looks that count. A generous spoonful or two of cold heavy cream over the top comes highly recommended.

Later in the week, restored by a few days of comparably ascetic fresh peach eating, I went back to the baking board with cobbler on my mind. It couldn't be just any cobbler, though. I wanted it to really feature the peaches, their flavor unadulterated, and to have a biscuit topping with some real character. Enter the sweet cornmeal biscuit recipe from Deb's cobbler. With such a toothsome topping, juicy slices of cooked peaches, brightened by just a little bit of brown sugar, lemon, and cinnamon, meet their perfect match. Double the biscuit recipe and you'll have plenty of topping plus some leftover to make impromptu peach shortcakes!

Isn't that just peachy?

Peach Pudding Cake

This recipe is from Bon Appetite but supposedly the original source is the Hyde Park Bar and Grill here in Austin. Their cake is called Wom Kim (???). Anybody want to join me there sometime for a little comparison taste test?

4 cups sliced, peeled peaches (dunk peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to make peeling a cinch)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 1/4 t. baking powder
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups sugar (I used less but my peaches were especially sweet)
2 T vanilla extract (yes, 2 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
cream or whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 9 x 13 inch glass dish w/ veggie oil and set aside. In a bowl whisk together all the flour, baking powder, salt, and soda. In a separate bowl use an electric mixer to beat butter until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, incorporating both well. Using low speed, add dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk in three additions each, beating well between each addition. Transfer batter to baking dish, spreading evenly. Arrange peach slices over the batter, overlapping them slightly. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil w/ vegetable oil and cover cake w/foil, spray side down, sealing edges. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil covering. Return to oven and continue baking until top is golden brown, edges are crusty and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean--about 40 more minutes. Cool for an hour and then serve topped with cream (whipped or not).

Peach Cornmeal Cobbler

6 cups sliced, peeled peaches
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used regular and a little less)
2 T flour
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Biscuit Topping:**double this for lots of topping**
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal (not sure if mine met the specs...worked out fine)
3 T dark brown sugar (used regular and a little less)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss together peaches and seasonings and pour into a 2 quart ovenproof dish.

Make dough: Stir together flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the dry mixture with your fingers or pastry blender. Stir in buttermilk with a rubber spatula until wet, tacky dough comes together.

Drop dough over the peaches by the spoonful covering most of the surface. Bake until the fruit and syrup are bubbly and the biscuits are browned (Deb says this should take 20-25 mins but at that point mine was still raw--I cooked it for about 40 mins). **you may want to place a baking sheet underneath it in the oven to catch drips. Let cool a bit and then scoop into bowls, top with cream or ice cream.

**Special shout out to Katie and Leah for their baking assistance. Merci!!**

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