When I’m good, I’m good.
Long before I became fully immured in the foodblogosphere, I was addicted to the archives of Sugar High Friday over at The Domestic Goddess – we’re talking over 3 years worth of sugary, buttery, sticky smooth sweet silky goodness from around the world. Have an excess of figs? Check out #35. Love ginger? Try lucky #19. Wanna get fancy-pants about it? Sugar art, #26. Feeling po-mo? “Desserts in shades of white,” #31.* Dead dentists everywhere are creating elaborate underground tunnels from all the rolling they’re doing in their graves.
When I started the Smackdown, I knew that Sugar High Friday was one of the first events I wanted to participate in. Of course, the first two themes following my crash landing into foodblogland would be pies – which I’m not really into, except for the occasional key lime** – and cooking with candy, which. eh. Ergo, I was excited when Tartelette, the host for this round, announced the theme for #43: citrus.
So to mark this personal blogging milestone, I give you: Fuzzy Navel Upside-Down Cake.
*For the record, I reject food that is extremely po-mo; I prefer my meals to be firmly grounded in the mo.
**To clarify: not into making. But very into eating.
Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. If you don’t own this book, you should.
Even though I knew I wanted to participate in this round, I didn’t really have a plan and I fully admit that this cake was a bit of an accident, not entirely unlike the discovery of penicillin. I was flipping through some baking books yesterday, looking for something simple that would take the edge off the dish-that-shall-not-be-named. I wasn’t really feeling cookies, and wanted something more exciting than a quickbread or loaf cake. Dorie’s Cranberry and Walnut Upside-Downer was looking good, but the flavors didn’t really go with the gorgeous spring day, nor did I have any cranberries.
What I did have were some frozen peaches, pine nuts, a bottle of pure orange oil that I hadn’t found a good use for yet, and a stray tangelo. I adapted the recipe a bit to create a Fuzzy Navel cake, which serves the dual purpose of serving as a Sugar High Friday entry and honoring the first time I ever got wasted in college. (For those of you whose underage drunkenness was more of the tequila shots and Bud Light variety, a Fuzzy Navel is OJ mixed with peach schnapps. I know. Shut up.)
The “fuzzy” part.
The cake starts with butter and sugar, as do all good things. Not creamed, but melted together and brought to a boil, then poured into the bottom of a cake pan and studded with fruit and nuts, so you know this is going to be good. Dorie doesn’t thaw her cranberries, so I didn’t bother thawing the peaches.
Side note: watch yourself around the butter and sugar. This shit isn’t like boiling water, it’s like napalam. It WILL try to spatter out of the pot, and it WILL aim for your eye.
I wanted to add a little more dimension to the fruit since my experience with Whole Foods-brand frozen peaches is that they’re not as robustly peachy as I’d like them to be (what is these days?), so I added some ground ginger and a whiff of cardamom – my new favorite spice, barely ousting smoked paprika – and let the spices bloom and infuse the hot butter mixture with their gentle heat and fragrance.
I’m not sure what possessed me to lay the peaches out so neatly in the sugar, except that maybe I wanted to make this cake extra-special to be sure it would erase the memories of the dish-that-shall-not-be-named. Whatever the reason it sure looks purty, don’t it?
Honestly, if the peaches hadn’t been frozen, I might have just eaten this with a spoon.
The batter is a simple affair that comes together in a few minutes: more butter and sugar, now creamed, a few eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and a little milk. To add the “navel” element I threw some finely grated orange zest and a few drops of pungent orange oil. The essential oils instantly burst open when they hit the batter, giving the whole kitchen a wonderful, soft orange-grovey smell.
I dumped the batter onto the peaches most unceremoniously and put the cake pan on a baking sheet in case of fruit-related bubble-over, and into the oven it went. I pulled it out when the top was golden brown and let it rest in the pan for 30 or 40 minutes so that all the juice the peaches had released could absorb into the cake and/or cool down a bit into a nice syrup.
Commence slack-jawed drooling.
When I inverted the pan the cake slide out perfectly – warm and moist, every peach in place, and just enough sweet syrup to glaze the whole. Judging the slice I had then with the one I just had for breakfast, this cake is good at any time of day but is especially delicious when still warm from the oven. The frozen peaches emerged tender and sweet. The ginger and cardamom had melded with them perfectly. The cake was moist without being overly dense, and carried just the right amount of sweetness of it’s own – enough to complement the fruit, not so much so as to be overwhelming. The orange flavor was present but delicate; in highlighted the floral character of the peaches and cardamom in a way I hadn’t entirely expected.
I didn’t top my slice with anything, but a spoonful of barely-sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche would make it even better. A cup of tea would make the whole thing quite civilized (or “civilised,” if you prefer). If Fuzzy Navels aren’t your thing, you can use the basic method and ingredients and swap in the fruit, nuts and other flavorings of your choice with impunity.
To sum up: really fucking good. Also easy and fast, characteristics I like in women, medical procedures and cake.
Fuzzy Navel Upside-Down Cake
makes 1 8-inch cake
14 tbsp. unsalted, room-temperature butter
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts (almonds would also be good)
1 10 oz. bag of frozen peaches, or three fresh peaches, sliced
2 large eggs
1 c. AP flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 pure orange oil (you could also use a bit of orange flower water)
zest of 1/2 an orange
Pre-heat your oven to 350.
For the fruit: Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and 6 of the sugar together along with the ginger and cardamom. Heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Pour the hot mix into the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Sprinkle the pine nuts evenly across the surface and add the peaches; you can be neat, or you can just chuck ’em in. Press gently to make sure they’re all in contact with the hot sugar-butter mix.
For the cake: In a small bowl, whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together. Cream the remaining butter and sugar together with the orange zest until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute or so after each; scrape down the mixing bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and orange oil, mixing briefly to incorporate.
Add half the flour mix and beat until it’s just incorporated into the batter. Beat in the milk then add the other half of the flour, again mixing only as long as necessary.
Scrape the batter into the cake pan and smooth with a spatula to cover all the fruit evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.
Allow the cake to rest in the pan for 30-45 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Can be served warm, at room temperature or cold, although warm is best.