Thursday, September 17, 2009
FRUIT AND BROWNED BUTTER CAKE
I made this dessert with some gorgeous “dinosaur egg” pluots a couple of weeks ago, but even though it knocked my socks off and A’s too, I neglected to write about it. At first I couldn’t figure out why I kept procrastinating, and then one day I caught myself thinking, “Hmm, I seem to have forgotten what this tastes like…how will I describe it on my blog? It’s been so long since I tasted it, I really don’t think I can do it justice anymore. Maybe I should whip up another batch, just to inspire myself.” Yes, I had managed to trick myself into making this again. Sometimes having a food blog comes in handy.
Purely in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I used nectarines the second time, and it turned out just as amazingly as the first time around. So: versatile, possibly foolproof? Check. Delicious? CHECK. Astoundingly easy, requiring only a few common ingredients (I didn’t plan on making that second batch ahead of time—just gave in to my craving one day and delightedly found that all the ingredients were already in my kitchen) and some fruit that happens to be in season right now? Check, check, and check. Clearly, I can’t in good conscience keep the recipe from you people any longer.
This isn’t really a cake per se, but that’s what the original recipe (from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax) calls it: Quick Apple Cake. Occasionally, while eating, you do get a chunk that seems cake-reminiscent, where the batter has oozed down to surround a piece of fruit. But on the site where I found the recipe, Baking With Julie, it looks more like a pie, baked in a pie plate and cut into wedges. I don’t own a pie plate, if you can believe it, so I used an 8-inch square Pyrex baking dish, and rather than slicing the dessert (which didn’t have much structural integrity anyway the first time I made it, probably because I used too many of those juicy pluots) I just scooped out spoonfuls into bowls, like a cobbler or crisp or crumble—and indeed it’s put together that way, with lots of cooked fruit on the bottom and just a layer of batter on top. Julie calls it “Browned Butter Bliss,” and that’s certainly accurate, as well as being kind of catchy—and really, if we can have desserts called grunts, slumps, buckles, bettys, and pandowdies, why can’t we popularize the bliss? Still, I’m not sure I can pull it off without air quotes, so in the end I opted for a more straight-up descriptive name, mainly so I don’t have to deal with the “huh?” that would probably result each time I told A we were having Bliss for dessert.
The magical ingredient here is the browned butter, which gives the cake a wonderful caramelized flavor (seriously: taste a fingerful of the uncooked batter; the caramel is even more pronounced than in the finished dessert). If you’ve never browned butter before, all that means is melting butter in a pan on the stovetop and then letting it go a shade or two darker—this happens quickly, so you do have to be vigilant, but otherwise it requires no skill on your part. Then you just mix that—by hand; no mixer required—with some sugar, eggs, and flour, and pour the batter over some cut-up fruit you’ve tossed with a little sugar in the baking dish. You don’t even have to peel that fruit! Sprinkle some more sugar on top and bake. One bowl, one baking dish, a few measuring cups, and that’s it. In 40 minutes you’ll have meltingly soft baked fruit, sweetened but still a little tart, nestled beneath a crusty, buttery topping. I’m willing to bet you could use just about any pie-friendly fruit: peaches, plums, apricots, berries, cherries, pears….Obviously I’m going to have to experiment with each and every one. And I haven’t even tried it with ice cream or whipped cream yet—it’s plenty good plain, whether eaten warm from the pan or cold from the fridge the next day. I'd also like to try it with brown sugar, though that might just be gilding the lily.
Even more so than the berry buttermilk cake, my other favorite simple-baked-fruit-dessert discovery of this summer, this is a recipe I can totally envision myself effortlessly memorizing, then whipping up spontaneously at a moment’s notice when guests drop by (of course, guests never really just “drop by” my apartment, but in this fantasy I live in some close-knit, old-timey community with all my friends in easy reach and leisurely afternoons to spend in each others’ kitchens). Or, you know, when I just have some fruit lying around that needs to be eaten.
8 or so small plums or apricots, or 3 large peaches or nectarines, thickly sliced (the original calls for 3 tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced, in which case also add a squeeze of lemon juice to them in the pan)
¾ cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional; I didn’t use it)
½ cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter a pie plate or 8-inch square baking dish. Toss your fruit in the baking dish with about 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon, if using; spread evenly over the bottom of the dish.
3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat (I find that a light-colored [i.e., non-nonstick, such as stainless steel] pan works better, because you can see the color of the butter more clearly) and keep cooking it, swirling the pan occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until it turns golden brown (you should see brown flecks in the butter). Remove from heat and pour into a medium mixing bowl.
4. Stir the ¾ cup of sugar into the butter, then the eggs, then the flour. Pour over the fruit and sprinkle with the last tablespoon of sugar.
5. Bake for 40–45 minutes, until golden and crusty, and the juices ooze from around the edges. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or thick vanilla yogurt.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High. I was surprised how much I liked the cold leftovers the next day—almost more than the hot-from-the-oven version (though if you wanted, you could just reheat the leftovers in the microwave—which I’d do if I were serving it with ice cream; I love that warm/cold contrast). Sure, the cake topping gets less crisp, but the flavors seem to meld more.