September 25, 2013

Recipe: Peach Polenta Upside-Down Cake

As the weather in Seattle begins to cool and the summer fruit harvest comes to a close, I've been savoring the final weeks of peaches, plums, and nectarines at the Farmers' Markets. Stone fruits are some of my favorite ingredients to bake with, so when I found perfectly ripe peaches at last Saturday's market, I grabbed a bunch with one of my favorite sweet recipes in mind - Peach Polenta Upside-Down Cake.

Traditional Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was my Grandpa's birthday cake of choice - a vintage classic of moist yellow cake with a caramelized topping of pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. It's the 1950's in cake form. Despite his commitment to the original recipe, I think my Grandpa would be fond of this modern variation as well. Sliced peaches are briefly cooked in a skillet alongside a bit of sugar and coconut oil, releasing their juices to create a peach-infused caramel. The skillet of caramel-y peaches is topped with a lightly-sweet cornmeal cake batter fragrant with vanilla and (because I can't help myself) more coconut oil. The skillet goes straight into the oven to bake the cake, and after a brief cooling, you invert the cake out of the pan to reveal all of that peach prettiness.

It's a cake just sweet and rich enough for dessert, but not so indulgent to be counted out as a sweet addition to breakfast or brunch. I often enjoy a slice alongside a cup of coffee or tea. It's an "anytime" cake. And really, who can't get behind a treat like that?

Peach Polenta Upside-Down Cake
Inspired by Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker, and Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Serves 8

This cake is cooked both on the stovetop and in the oven, so you'll need to use an oven-proof skillet. Cast iron is my preference, but any oven-safe skillet will do. I've made the cake in both a 10-inch and 12-inch skillet, and found the 10-inch to work best - the cake turns out a bit thinner than I prefer when baked in the 12-inch skillet (you can see this in the photos above). If you only have a 12-inch skillet, take note that the thinner cake will need a few minutes less in the oven.

For the Batter:
1 cup plain non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon cider or white wine vinegar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal or polenta
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Caramelized Peach Topping:
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
3 medium peaches, peeled*, pit removed, and sliced into ¼-inch thick slices/wedges

*I peel the peaches with a paring knife, gently tugging the peel away from the flesh. I've had good success with this method (as seen here), but if it seems too tricky (or you just don't want to bother), you can leave the peaches unpeeled. I just happen to prefer the jammy quality of unpeeled peaches.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On your stovetop, bring a 10-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, melt 2 tablespoons coconut oil, using a pastry brush to coat sides of skillet with oil. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons sugar evenly into the skillet. Without stirring the sugar, allow it to melt into the oil for a couple of minutes. Arrange the sliced peaches in the skillet,  forming a circle at the edge of the skillet and filling in the center until the surface of the skillet is covered (feel free to nosh on any leftover peach slices as the cake bakes). Cook the peaches for 8-10 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling and the peaches are softened. Immediately remove the skillet from heat and rest on a heat-proof surface to cool slightly.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, add the milk and vinegar, stir, and set aside to sour for a few minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until evenly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soured milk, coconut oil, applesauce, sugars, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the large bowl of dry ingredients and stir until a smooth batter forms.

Gently add spoonfuls of cake batter on top of the peaches in the skillet. When I say gently, I mean gently - the peaches are precariously placed on a slippery layer of hot caramel, which makes them prone to moving about. I start with a spoonful in the center, then add spoonfuls of batter around the edge of the skillet, filling in any blank spots a spoonful at a time until an even layer of batter is covering all of the peaches. Once all the batter is in the skillet, carefully transfer skillet to oven and bake cake for 28-32 minutes, or until the center tests clean. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before inverting cake. 

To invert the cake, run a knife along the edge of the skillet, then place a large plate on top of the pan and quickly - but carefully - flip the skillet and the plate. Tap the bottom of the skillet to loosen the cake, then lift skillet away. If necessary, reposition peaches on top of the cake. It's best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

1 comment:

  1. This looks amazing..gonna try for a Thanksgiving dessert and will try pears rather than peaches. Thank you. Megan