Thinking of what to bake while in Italy is never easy. The requests start to come trickling in on about day 3 from my sister-in-law that has a huge sweet tooth. I settled on this quick and painless peach and cornmeal upside-down cake for a couple reasons.
Mostly, because Teresa (my mother-in-law), had just bought 20 kilos of peaches for 10 Euros. That is a huge bargain in Italian standards and especially in American standards. She got peaches for 6 Euros a case. And these weren’t just any ol’ peaches. They were juicy and delightful.
I woke up one morning before the rest of my family to find Teresa and Domenico (my father-in-law) peeling and slicing. And peeling and slicing. The pile was overflowing and I really wanted to help them. First I needed a little caffe’ to wake me up and so then I peeled and sliced and we made jam. Lots and lots of incredible peach jam. But it barely made a dent in our peach supply.
My sister-in-law came over aggravated the next day as Teresa stored a huge bowl of peaches in her fridge. When I say huge…it was HUGE! And if you’ve never been to Italy, you have to imagine how small their fridges are. Well, how small all their appliances are compared to ours. But that’s a whole different story I won’t get into here. I’d rather talk about this peach cake.
So one day I finally got an opportunity and drummed up the courage to gently nudge Teresa out of the kitchen for a minute so I could bake a little something. It wasn’t that easy. I did need her to show me where every single ingredient was. And it was a process. Because the eggs were stored down in her cantina (I’m not sure why). The flour was running out, so that was also another trip down to the cantina to get more. And while Domenico was there, he forgot to bring me a lemon. Then the mixer is stored somewhere in the dining room. A spatula would’ve been nice. That took about 15 minutes to find. The cake that should’ve taken only minutes to put together was taking almost an hour and dinner was about to made. I was in the way and I was rushing.
While my father-in-law rounded up what I needed to make this cake, I started to brown the butter in the baking pan; Teresa was highly confused and asked why I didn’t just add some parchment paper to the pan. She kept pushing her parchment paper roll on me. She didn’t get it. I explained to her it was for the peaches. Teresa rarely browns butter for a cake and hardly ever makes an upside-down cake. The only butter she browns is to add fresh sage from her garden for a pasta dish. I probably looked like the crazy American baker. I kindly asked her to leave as she was reminding me that the butter was about to burn.
So you see the 2nd photo of the cake is a little darker than the first photo. The first photo just made today in Florida. Yes, today I baked in my little kitchen. I found two packages of peaches at my local fruit market. It wasn’t quite the bang for the buck as it was in Italy. But it worked. And I didn’t overbrown my butter. And it also was really quiet in my kitchen. I sort of missed the chaos and the confusion. I missed Teresa questioning my every move and hurrying me to close the fridge door as it’s so hot and all the cold air is escaping. The flour wasn’t as soft as the Italian “00” type of flour. The eggs’ yolks weren’t that rich yellow like I see only in Italy. But the cake was as wonderful as it was when I made it a couple weeks ago in Italy.
These are the peaches I was peeling and slicing for jam making in Italy a couple weeks ago. Remember, there were almost 40 lbs of them. This was just a small portion.
So what was it like in Italy these days? There were lots of 500 spottings. This one was a classic and the owner was nice enough to even let Luca sit in it and pretend he was driving it. Fabrizio was telling the kids the story how every summer they would take their road trip down to Calabria. His mom and dad in the front and he and his two sisters squished in the back. Gabriella’s eyes widened in disbelief, “You ALL fit in this tiny car and drove all the way to Calabria?!?”
There were lots of days filled with soccer games. We watched Italy make it even to the Euro 2012 finals. That was thrilling and I loved walking to the local bar to get a paper and here the soccer fans talk about their favorite players and how they predicted the final game would go.
We took some long car trips and we also took some short trips to Lake Como for a gelato. I had fun messing around with Instagram and of course, with my camera. These are all shots of Como. I’ll share some more photos in the next few weeks. And some more recipes.
Some cake notes: I made this cake in Italy in a regular non-stick pan. Today when I made it in Florida, I used my cast iron skillet. I just love my cast iron skillet. In Italy, I did use panna (heavy cream) and today I used lower-fat milk (I’m trying to lose some of the weight I gained there!). Both times the cake turned out delectable. You can choose the sort of cream you’d like. I think it would be even nice with almond milk in case you are dairy-free.
Peach and Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
source: Martha Stewart
5 1/2 ounces (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 medium ripe peaches (about 1 1/4 pounds), skins on, pitted, and cut into 3/4-inch wedges
1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons chopped fresh lavender, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, using a pastry brush to coat sides with butter as it melts. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar evenly over bottom of skillet, and cook until sugar starts to bubble and turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Arrange peaches in a circle at edge of skillet, on top of sugar. Arrange the remaining wedges in the center to fill. Reduce heat to low, and cook until juices are bubbling and peaches begin to soften, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
Whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder, lavender, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat remaining stick of butter and 3/4 cup sugar with a mixer on high speed, until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Mix in vanilla and cream. Reduce speed to low, and beat in cornmeal mixture in 2 additions.
Drop large spoonfuls of batter over peaches, and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Bake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer skillet to a wire rack, and let stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around edge of cake. Quickly invert cake onto a cutting board or your cake plate. Tap bottom of skillet to release peaches, and carefully remove skillet. In case you lose some peaches, you can reposition peach slices on top of cake. We like it best when it’s warm and even better with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
Thanks for your friendship and support and I hope you’re having a peaceful and delicious summer!