As we say good-bye to summer, I give you this lovely Peach Lemon Thyme Upside Down Cake. Local ripe peaches are still available at farmers markets around New York and New Jersey while fresh herbs such as lemony thyme remain abundant in many of our gardens. Pair these seasonal favorites with buttery cake, and summer may finally feel complete.
Rhubarb, one of the best parts about spring, is late this year in the Northeast. We just started seeing this perfect pie fruit at farmers markets within the last week or so – I’ve been looking for it since mid-April! Rhubarb is definitely a favorite of mine. Always a fan of tart and tangy, rhubarb is juicy, sweet, yet slightly sour when baked with sugar. Although my grandmother didn’t have many recipes for it, her mentor, James Beard has a few in “The James Beard Cookbook,” which is where I got the idea for this super simple baked rhubarb recipe.
This recipe might be over the top. It didn’t start out that way but before I could realize what was happening, I had created the most delicious and elaborate Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce that I have ever had. The plan was originally a minimalist approach. My grandmother doesn’t have a baked whole apple recipe (though she has many other apple recipes) but her mentor, James Beard has a very simple one in “The James Beard Cookbook.” It offers a few options of varying spices for the cavity of the apples but doesn’t venture as far as stuffing them. It even offers a flamed version which involves pouring heated alcohol over the apple and igniting it (“bring to the table blazing”) but I thought it might be best to avoid burning down my apartment building or at least the complaints of “fire smell” from the neighbors. Perhaps I will wait for a special occasion.
I settled for a simple spiced baked apple. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing or that it somehow lacked the excitement I was looking for. That’s when I decided to stuff it with crisp. Apple crisp is a favorite I make at least a few times every fall. It’s hard to go wrong with oats, sugar, butter, flour, and cinnamon so why not stuff a whole apple with this lovely crumbly topping? This simple baked apple was getting more interesting.
I then thought about those lonely parts of the apple that wouldn’t be exposed to the tasty crisp. Perhaps it needed a sauce? Enter my second favorite apple accompaniment: Caramel. And not just any caramel, easy homemade caramel sauce. Drizzled over the finished juicy baked apple stuffed with the cinnamon spiced crisp, it’s a combination to die for. I was already out of control so I topped the finished warm apple with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Melting into the crevices of the crisp and dripping down the sides of the apple while mixing with the caramel sauce, excessiveness never looked or tasted so good.
This summery ice cream based dessert may seem more appropriate for August than September. Classic Peach Melba uses summery peaches and raspberries, normally in season in late July and early August. However, most produce has been late this year and surprisingly so has the weather. So far, September in NYC has been hotter than August. It may change soon but in the meantime, sweet juicy peaches from the farmers market are perfect for this cool timeless dessert.
Some of you may not be familiar with Peach Melba. Besides the name, there is nothing particularly unique about this old fashioned dessert. In its most basic form, it simply consists of vanilla ice cream with peaches and raspberry sauce. It is somewhat historic though – legend says it was developed by the French chef Escoffier in the late 1800’s and named after Opera singer, Nellie Melba. This recipe is adapted from the James Beard version in “The James Beard Cookbook.” It continues to surprise me how this one time dear friend and mentor of my grandmother, is becoming more and more of a famous culinary figure. There is currently a movie in the works about him (“America’s First Foodie”) as well as postage stamps (yes, James Beard Postage Stamps).
The main difference in this recipe from the James Beard one is the use of fresh raspberries for the raspberry sauce. I would imagine this is somewhat closer to the original that Escoffier made (I doubt frozen raspberries were common then but who knows). I also used homemade vanilla ice cream instead of store bought – a rich recipe based on classic crème anglaise. The sweet fresh fruit and rich eggy homemade ice cream makes the flavor of each element stand out on its own. Enjoy this summery dessert while the warm weather lasts.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raspberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 teaspoons powdered sugar (depending on sweetness of raspberries)
Vanilla Ice Cream (recipe follows)
Blanch peaches to peel by slicing an X in the skin at the bottom of peaches. Boil 2-3 minutes until skin starts to peel back slightly on peaches. Remove and place immediately in ice water. Once chilled, peel and slice peaches.
Combine the sugar, water, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add peaches and poach gently, spooning hot liquid over them. When tender but not mushy, remove from heat and allow to cool in syrup.
While peaches cool, make raspberry sauce. Puree raspberries with a little water. Push through sieve to remove seeds. Whisk in lemon juice and powdered sugar. Chill.
Scoop vanilla ice cream into cold dishes. Spoon poached peaches and raspberry sauce over ice cream. Serve immediately.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups 1 or 2% milk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, bring heavy cream, milk, and vanilla to a boil over medium low heat – be careful not to let it boil over. Meanwhile beat egg yolks with sugar until pale.
Slowly whisk hot milk cream mixture into egg yolks. Pour back into saucepan. Place over low heat. Stir constantly until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Be careful not to overheat – eggs will curdle. Strain mixture and chill. Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.
It’s berry season here in the Northeast and the first local strawberries have arrived. Smaller and juicier than the California variety that are available year round, these berries are delicious on their own but even tastier in the all-American classic, Strawberry Shortcake. Until now, my limited experience with strawberry shortcake consisted of pound cake (also excellent) and not the traditional shortcake, a sweetened biscuit that acts as the vehicle for the berries and cream. It’s clear that the density and texture of real shortcake changes this dessert entirely, creating a rich and substantial end to any meal.
This is another “friends of Paula Peck” recipe. It is adapted from a Blueberry Shortcake recipe in “John Clancy’s Favorite Recipes,” by John Clancy as well as “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. As mentioned in other posts, John Clancy was a friend and colleague of my grandmother and also a restaurant owner and chef instructor. James beard was of course…James Beard, amazing chef and mentor to my grandmother (amongst other famous chef such as Julia Child). The main difference between the two shortcake recipes is the use of vegetable shortening in the James Beard recipe. Though it provides a flakier pastry, I don’t usually keep shortening around and prefer to use butter. Both recipes contain instructions for one large shortcake to be eaten in slices like regular cake. I prefer individual shortcakes – making more of a personalized presentation and allowing you to put together just a few cakes at a time and save some for the next day. The last adaptation I made is the addition of vanilla extract to the macerated strawberries. While adding sugar to the strawberries, a touch of vanilla goes a long way and makes them even more fragrant and sweet. How can you go wrong with strawberries, cake, and cream?
1 lb strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespooons granulated sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon softened butter
cinnamon sugar (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Slice strawberries and mix with both sugar and vanilla extract. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter and with your fingers rub the ingredients together until they turn into coarse, separate pieces. Stir in the heavy cream with a wooden spoon and mix until a soft dough is formed.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it just 1 minute. Divide the dough, making 4 portions. Divide the 4 portions, making one of each of the portions a little larger than the other. Roll the larger portions into rounds 1/2 inch thick and place them on a cookie sheet. Spread the 1 tablespoon of softened butter on top. Roll the second piece of dough into rounds a little less than 1/2 inch thick and roll sides and top in cinnamon sugar (if using). Place them on top of the larger pieces. Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until firm.
Remove the top layers of the cakes and spread strawberries on the bottom layer. Dollop whip cream on top and replace top layer. Add more whipped cream and strawberries on top layer.