What a quandary. The peach and its smooth-skinned stone-fruit sister, the nectarine, are my all-time favorite fruits. There is nothing so bucolic as plucking their fresh, glowing globes, hanging heavy from rows of trees at roadside orchards, filling a basket with the fragrant and flushed promise of ambrosial juices dripping from that first out-of-hand bite or culinary cut in the kitchen. And there is nothing quite so dismal and disappointing as when the local season shuts down and leaves you with the prospect of picking through bins of watery, mealy, bland, commercial-grade produce trucked in from who knows where, if you can find any at all.
My last excursion to the supermarket bore no fresh peaches of any kind, good, bad or ugly. Apples are king now, as they should be. But the tease of golden-pink cleaved orbs or saucers still played on my desire for the delirious delicacy of one last peach, before that first apple pie gets pushed into the oven.
Times like these call for desperate measures, which, for me, mean meticulously researching recipes for hours and hours, analyzing their ingredients and methods, keen to predict a winner and avoid a dud of a dish that I can neither serve to my guests nor recommend to my readership. These tasks aside, it is still easier than picking the trifecta at the local racetrack.
Patience and perseverance do pay off, though, in a recipe for one the most seminal classic French cakes ever created, Le Gâteau Savarin, named for the virtually undisputed granddaddy of gourmands, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. The greater payoff still was not having to resort to canned peaches, the flavor and texture of which is too metallic and leaden for my personal taste. Instead, I was able to utilize fine French and Italian jarred peach products, where flavor and fragrance are not compromised, products that are not impossible to find in well-stocked markets.
For those who are unused to baking with live yeast culture, please be assured that this is among the easiest, fastest and most foolproof cakes you can conjure up during a quiet kitchen interlude of no more than a few hours, from the rising of the dough to the finishing touch of folding preserves into the softest of whipped creams.
For those who are already missing the sublime sweetness and savor of peaches at their prime, follow me back to old France, where the flavor and fragrance are still fresh, and an exalted fruit rises from the ashes of the orchard.
Peach Rum Savarin - From the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science recipe [The cake recipe itself (the savarin) was followed almost to the letter. A savarin is a less complicated, less rich, version of a brioche.]
2 cups all purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast (use the traditional yeast, NOT the quick rise)
2/3 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and yeast. In a saucepan heat milk, butter and sugar just till mixture is warm (115 to 120 F) and butter is almost melted; stir constantly. Add to flour mixture, add eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1/2 minute, scraping bowl. Beat for 3 minutes on high speed. Using a spoon, stir in remaining flour. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Spoon batter into a well- greased six-to-nine cup savarin mold or ring. (A bundt or tube pan work well, too.) Cover, let rise in a warm place till nearly double (about 40 minutes). Bake in a 350F oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes; transfer, inverted to a wire rack over waxed paper.
Savarin Syrup – Adapted from the Carnegie Mellon recipe [Since you must soak the savarin in the syrup while the savarin is still warm, please prepare the syrup before the savarin is removed from the oven.]
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup golden rum
2 cups high-quality peach nectar (I used Rienzi, an Italian import)
In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar, cooking over medium heat until the sugar melts and the mixture thickens into a syrup. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before adding the rum and nectar. [If you prefer, you can completely cook off the alcohol by returning the entire mixture over a low flame and let it simmer for approximately 10 minutes. The rum flavor will not be diminished.]
Peach Chantilly Cream – Adapted from the Wilton Stabilized Whipped Cream recipe [Chantilly cream is whipped cream that is beaten until soft peaks form rather than very stiff peaks.]
2 cups whipping (or heavy) cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons stabilizing gel (I used Wilton Piping Gel which contains agar, a non-meat gelling agent; other non-gelatin (non-meat) products are available, but very hard to find)
1 cup high-quality peach preserves (I used Bonne Maman, a French import)
In a small sauce pan over very low heat, gently melt preserves until barely simmering. Transfer warmed preserves to a large tea strainer positioned over a large bowl. With a spoon or spatula, rub and press the preserves through the strainer, saving any solids for use as a spread. Set aside the bowl of strained preserves to cool.
In a large chilled bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Add powdered sugar and beat just until sugar is well distributed, then beat in stabilizing gel, until cream reaches the soft peak stage. Do not over beat to stiff peaks.
When the preserves are fully cooled, gently fold them into the soft whipped cream. Refrigerate the cream (covered) until you are ready to assemble/serve. The cream is very delicate.
With the warm cake still inverted on the rack so that the bottom is upright, poke frequent deep holes in it with a fine skewer. Pour 1/2 the syrup slowly over the bottom of the cake, taking care to fill the holes you have made. Allow cake to sit for half an hour. Turn cake upright. Repeat piercing of cake and pouring of remaining syrup. Let sit again for half an hour.
Carefully position cake on a serving or cake plate. It should be very sodden with syrup yet maintain its shape. If not, return it to the rack and pour the runoff syrup collected from under the rack into the cake.
For the prettiest presentation, pipe the peach chantilly cream into the center of the savarin as well as along the circumference of the cake. Decorate the center cream with a few blanched almonds and some orange-colored sugar (I used India Tree which does not use artificial color in some of its products), or a glacè cherry. Dusting the cake with powdered sugar (as shown) is optional.
[On a practical note, the cutting and individual plating of this gorgeous creation is difficult to do successfully. It does present beautifully as a whole, but it can be less than attractive given it's heavily syruped and very voluptuously creamed decor. When I make it again, I will cut individual servings from the syruped cake and then decorate with the peach cream.]
This post is being submitted to Mansi of Fun and Food who is hosting AFAM - Peach - for Maheswari of Beyond the Usual, the founder of this lovely event.
Been There, Done That ~
Crumb-Top Peach Pie
Stuffed, Baked Nectarines