The saddest fourth of July I've ever spent consisted of huddling on the hillside overlooking Fort Mason as the fog turned pink, blue, and gold through the Monterey pines. More often than not, this is what fireworks looks like in San Francisco. Today, with only a few days to go before the Fourth, the wind is howling and the temperature has yet to crack 60F. It's likely that this year won't be any different.
Frankly, even if it were a balmy 65F outside, I'm not sure I'd be prepared for July. Since my last post on this site—what, two months ago? – I've felt as if I've lived in a time warp. After traveling for two weeks in Japan, I've been hitting the media/event circuit to talk about the Burma Superstar cookbook. I spent two days in New York demonstrating how to cook simple Burmese dishes and talking about tea leaf salad. (We ended the trip with my new favorite Brooklyn restaurant, Karasu. There have been bookstore signings and radio programs. I've taught a couple of cooking classes, too. Compared with authors who go on an actual book tour, this is a modest schedule. But it's far more than I've done for books I've worked in in the past, where I sort of trail behind like a ghostly presence. (But hopefully not that creepy.)
Although talking about cooking is fun, the one thing I haven't been doing much of lately is actual cooking. But summer is the best time to cook, when minimum effort leads to superior results. Right now, though, I feel as if summer produce will slip on by if I don't start taking advantage. The time is NOW.
Also, there are some fruits and vegetables that just make more sense to eat in the summer than any other time. While strawberries and blueberries can be made into jams or frozen to bake with in the fall and winter, peaches make the most sense in the summer. I learned this the hard way: last year, I blanched, peeled and sliced extra peaches with the intension that I'd bake with them after peach season was over. But the time never felt right. There was always something more appropriate to use, like apples with walnuts or cranberries and pears. Or anything lemon.
Yesterday, I pulled the zip-top bag out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter. Later, I saw that my friend Malena had posted a snapshot of a family-favorite recipe on Instagram. It was for a fruit cake – named "fruit torte" since fruit cake would throw people off – adapted from one of the New York Times most popular recipes, the original plum torte.
There is a reason that this recipe is one of the paper's most popular: It's one that everyone should keep handy, flexible enough that almost any soft fruit (berries, sliced peaches, and, especially, plums) can be put on top.
The original recipe uses a springform pan, but I decided to bake mine in an 8-inch square pan because I had it handy. It worked (so if you don't have a springform pan, don't worry). I also modified the sugar a tad, reducing the white sugar and adding a little brown sugar. And I needed to do something to revive the year-old frozen fruit. For that job, I took a cue from Kim Boyce's book Good to the Grain, which has a good recipe for peach ginger muffins. For the peaches, she sautés them in butter, honey, and ginger before putting them in the muffins.
As the thawed peaches drained in a colander, I warmed a tablespoon of honey and butter in a nonstick skillet. When it started to bubble, I stirred in the peaches and simmered just until the juices started bubbling. When the batter was ready to go, I spooned the peaches on top. The baked cake made the perfect snack: simple and sweet--but not too sweet. Summer may not come to San Francisco until October, but at least I can stave off the gloom with this peach torte.
Summer Peach Torte
Makes one (8-inch) cake
- 2 cups sliced peaches (peeled if you wish, if frozen, thaw ahead of time)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature (about 65F)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 100 g / 1/2 cup white sugar
- 50 g / 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 113 g / 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 140 g / 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat an oven to 350F (or 325F if using convection). Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the base with parchment paper.
Melt the butter with honey in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the peaches and cook briefly, just to warm the peaches through. If there is a lot of juice, you may want to simmer a bit to allow the juice to thicken.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugars and butter until light and aerated, 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, put the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Scrape down the sides of the stand mixer's bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the eggs on medium-low speed until evenly blended into the butter, about 1 minute. Gradually mix in the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, just until the batter comes together and looks creamy.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the top with the spatula to smooth down. The pan won't look that full—don't worry. Spoon the peaches over the top, leaving excess juice in the pan if there is a lot of juice.
Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan. Cut into squares to serve.