Every time I look at a peach, I think about pound cake. Some people think about ice cream, and I agree that fresh peach ice cream is terrifically good. Others think about pickling them, and still others insist that the only way to eat a peach is dripping out of hand. But for me, the best way to eat ripe, flavorful peaches is gently cooked in butter and brown sugar with a few spices until they glisten with a garnet sauce, and then pour them over a slice of good, rich, homemade poundcake. This is of course a lovely way to end dinner. But it makes for a very nice breakfast. And a fine afternoon pick-me-up. You needn’t choose: pound cakes are large enough and keep admirably enough to suit your fancy all week.
When I buy peaches, I put them on a paper towel on a big plate, well-separated and covered with a cotton towel, and leave them on the counter to soften. Don’t be fooled by the photo, where they are stacked on top of tomatoes. It’s just a pose. Never stack peaches or otherwise allow them to touch. Once they are as you like them, put them in the refrigerator if you are not ready to use them.
4-5 small peaches
2 T unsalted butter
2 T firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ tea cardamom
1-2 drops pure almond extract
pinch of ground white pepper
½ tea good whiskey
Peel peaches: dip briefly into simmering water to loosen skins; if skins have begun to wrinkle, they can be relatively easy to peel without the scalding. Cut in half and pull apart from the stone; slice into a 9” frying pan into which you have put the butter. Heat medium high to melt the butter and sauté for a minute or two. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the brown sugar and spices and sauté another minute, then add the extract and whiskey and simmer another minute more. Set aside. (If you refrigerate before using, give it about 20 seconds in the microwave).
Perfect Pound Cake
This represents the final adjustment to three separate recipes for pound cake, all of which start in a cold oven. Its flavor and texture is, in my opinion, perfect.
2 sticks ( ½ lb) COLD unsalted butter
½ cup shortening
2 ¾ cup sugar
6 large fresh eggs
2 tea pure vanilla extract
1/8 tea freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tea cardamom
1 tea baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup fresh whole milk
In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening for about 3 minutes at medium speed, until well combined and smooth. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar at medium-low speed, then turn the mixer to medium-high and beat about 5 minutes, til fluffy. Scrape down the sides.
Reduce the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time; when combined, add the vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt. Sift the flour with the baking powder. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry. Scrape down any remaining flour, turn the mixer up to about medium and give it a final quick blend to bring it all together.
Spoon the batter into the pan, rotating it on the counter surface to smooth the top. Place in the lower middle of the cold oven. Turn the oven on to 350 F and bake 1 hour 10 minutes; it will be nicely golden. Reduce the heat to 325 F and continue baking another 15 minutes, or until the sides just begin to pull away from the pan and a fine skewer comes out clean from the highest point. Do not over-bake. Remove to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. If needed, loosen around the edges and center with a knife, and turn out onto the rack to cool completely.
Serve with the peaches. I like to serve it in wedges, but the texture is so fine you can cut it in paper-thin slices if you like. Divide it and freeze half, wrapped tightly in plastic and foil, if, like me, you live alone. Or give some to a neighbor. Otherwise, you will polish it off yourself in no time.