So this was supposed to be a simple summer dessert.
I’ve been seeing fresh local peaches making their way into the market, so they’ve been on my mind a lot lately. One of my favorite ways to eat a peach is to hold it in your hand and devour it. Eating a fresh ripe peach is an experience unlike that of most other fruit. When you bite into a peach it’s soft fleshy interior barely puts up a fight. You’re forced to slurp and lick between bites to catch the river of drippy golden juices trying to escape down your chin and wrist. A perfectly ripe peach is sweet and jammy and eating one is an almost vulgar exercise.
As much as I can urge and encourage you to take advantage of peach season before it’s too late, I can’t very well post a recipe titled, “eat a damned peach”. I mean, I guess I could, but it would be weird.
So, the plan was to come up with the perfect recipe to be a vehicle for this quintessential summer stone fruit.
At first I kept thinking of going in the bundt cake direction, but you and I both know I’ve been pumping out plenty of bundts lately. I wanted something a little simpler and more rustic. Something that would highlight and compliment the peaches. So I started brainstorming. For the next few days I was going over all the options I could think of. Cobblers and crumbles, buckles and slumps, pies and galettes, cupcakes and ice cream. Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. Skillet cake! Buttermilk skillet cake! Cornmeal buttermilk skillet cake! Brown butter cornmeal buttermilk skillet cake! Boom. Boom. Boom.
It’s funny the way the mind works. Days of thought and then POW! I had my answer, in detail, in less than 30 seconds.
The recipe is actually pretty simple to make too. You need little more than a skillet, a bowl & a spatula. Oh and maybe a knife for the peaches. Making homemade whipped cream is the only part that really requires any specialty tools.
The only “extra” steps I took to build layers of flavor in this cake were caramelizing the peaches and browning the butter. If you wanted to simplify things you could certainly skip one or both of these steps, but I really think that taking the extra few minutes makes all the difference in making this cake so amazing. Both steps help build a richness and depth of flavor, and I think its worth it in the end.
So like I said before, this was supposed to be an ordinary summer dessert. Something simple that would highlight the perfect peach and its perfect peachiness. Before I even started I knew that it would be good, and that the flavors here were right up my alley, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so different. So extraordinary. So perfect. I simply didn’t expect this to be so wonderful. I didn’t expect it to end up being my favorite dessert of 2014. But… It is.
Before this went into the oven I thought I should probably make sure it wasn’t poison If I was going to go forward with the baking process. So, I stole a little spoonful of batter. Then, I had to have another. And maybe one more after that. Oh my god. Something about this was just soooo good.
Once it had cooled, and I’d gone ahead and photographed it, I sat down and picked up one of the slices I’d cut and staged for the photo. I took a bite.
Whoa. It was perfect. Warm and homey and simple and summery, the perfect dessert.
I am a total sucker for desserts that are rustic, un-fussy, and old-fashioned. While I do sometimes love fancy over-the-top desserts, I’d take a rustic galette or a bubbling crumble over a fussy french pastry any day of the week. I think that’s why I love this cake so much. It’s everything I look for in a dessert. Comfort food at it’s finest.
Baking this in cast iron means the outside edge has a cornbread crustiness, while the interior is soft and delicate. The cornmeal in this cake gives it a bit of texture and bite, but it’s somehow also tender and moist at the same time. The jammy caramelized peaches are soft and gooey and rich. The combination of nutty brown butter, tangy buttermilk, and earthy cornmeal, along with the caramelized sweetness and vibrant summariness of the peaches is unbelievable.
This cake is phenomenal on its own, warm out of the oven or served at room temperature. If you want to, you can serve it with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream. I think that might be overkill though, and recommend you opt for a hearty dollop of bourbon scented whipped cream.
Caramelized Peach Cornmeal Skillet Cake
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 lb fresh peaches
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a 9″ or 10″ cast iron skillet (*see note), brown 1 stick unsalted butter over medium high heat. Brown until butter smells nutty and looks golden. Pour off into a medium heatproof bowl to cool.
Peel peaches (**see note) and slice each into thick wedges. Melt remaining butter in skillet and add peaches, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium high for about 10 minutes or until juices are bubbling and thick. If the peaches are especially ripe and juicy, you can spoon the slices out and continue reducing the juice for another 5 minutes or so. Remove to a heatproof bowl to cool. Wipe out skillet, return 1 tablespoon of browned butter, and swirl to coat.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and sugar. In bowl with remaining cooled brown butter, add buttermilk and eggs and whisk to combine. Pour wet mixture over flour mixture and mix until just combined. Gently stir in about half of the caramelized peaches and juice.
Pour batter into prepared skillet and spoon remaining peaches and juice evenly over the top.
Bake, with a baking sheet on rack below (to catch any potential drips), until top is evenly browned and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool slightly, about 30 minutes. If necessary, run a knife around the edge to loosen. Slice into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature, with bourbon whipped cream if desired (recipe below)
*You can use another type of ovenproof skillet if you don’t have cast iron, but I think cast iron will give you the best texture. Also, the original recipe called for a 10″ skillet but I didn’t have one and used a 9″ without a single drop spilling over in the oven.
** To peel peaches you can shock them in a pot of boiling water and transfer to an ice bath. Very ripe peaches will usually peel easily without this method. You can also use a vegetable peeler.
Bourbon Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Add sugar and bourbon and whisk a minute or two more, until the cream reaches stiff peaks.