This is another recipe out of the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, “Restaurant Favorites at Home”. It was inspired and adapted from a similar dish served at the Beacon in New York. As America’s Test Kitchen explains this dessert is classified as a “Cook’s Dessert” which is not in line with classic pastry arts….”Driven more by flavor and less by technique”…it is a dessert that doesn’t spend a lot of energy on appearance although it was plenty appetizing for us.
This is basically a classic vanilla yellow cake split horizontally with roasted fruit in the middle. Leftover sweet juice from the roasting can be used to add more concentrated flavor and moisture when the dish is plated.
I spent quite a little time looking for this recipe online and was not able to locate it on the America’s Test Kitchen website or on the web in general. I’ll repeat the basic ingredients here with proper credit given to Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen.
6 large peaches, pitted and cut into 1/2″ thick wedges
6 cups fresh blueberries
1.5 cups or 10.5 oz sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise. Seeds removed and seeds and pod reserved.
1/4 cup lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup (5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Whipping cream- for presentation
My first challenge was that peaches are not in season here right now. So I thought I would substitute apples instead. Although it was still tasty, another time I might be tempted to just make this purely from blueberries as the apple was just firm enough, even after roasting, to complicate things more than help. It might have been a simpler and possibly more elegant presentation with just blueberries.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
I cut up some of the apples to mix with the blueberries and then just used my judgment and eyes to see how many apples to put in. I tossed together the apples, blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, the vanilla bean pod (not the seeds), and the lemon juice. Per the recipe I then measured out 2.5 cups of the mixed fruit and reserved in a small bowl in the refrigerator.
Then I spread out the fruit mixture in a baking dish and arranged the vanilla bean pod on top. Split a half stick of butter into four pieces, 1 tbsp per piece, and dot the top of the fruit with the butter pads. Put this in the oven at 400 degrees and bake until about half the blueberries have burst which will be about 30 minutes. Don’t over roast this mixture as you still want some of the blueberries intact. Stir mixture at about 15 minutes into the cook time.
While the blueberries are roasting begin work on the vanilla cake batter.
To make great cake the one thing you need to do is to get your ingredients to the proper temperature before bringing them together. The eggs need to be at room temperature and the butter needs to be soft and loose. My sister sent me a great article from the New York Times on all of the science and practical preparation of butter (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/dining/17bake.html?_r=1) It makes a great case for softening your butter naturally by leaving it out at room temperature rather than putting in the microwave, but you already knew that.
If you have just pulled the eggs from your refrigerator you can place them in a small bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes which will quickly bring them to room temperature. If you use cold eggs with the softened butter, the cold from the eggs will firm the butter back up and make it more difficult to cream together.
In a medium bowl, combine together 1 cup of flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp of salt. This will be added to the creamed butter mixture we’re about to make.
Add 4 tbsp of softened butter to your standing mixer with the paddle attachment along with 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Next, add two eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, the vanilla seeds scraped from the vanilla bean pod. Mix this until smooth and creamy.
Begin adding the flour mixture and milk alternately in two batches making sure each is incorporated at low speed until smooth and creamy. Doing this in smaller batches will help the mixture come together without any lumps forming.
After 30 minutes with a stir at 15 minutes, the fruit mixture will have roasted, many of the blueberries will have burst leaving some still intact. You’ll have a wonderful blueberry compote. Pull it from the oven and begin to cool the mixture to room temperature.
Once the compote has cooled enough you can use s strainer to strain the juice from the fruit. The fruit will end up as the center layer of the vanilla cake and the juice can be used to drizzle over the cake or as a nice fruity puddle beside the cake in the final plating. So don’t pour the juice down the drain.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 to prepare it for baking the vanilla cake.
Use some butter to grease a 9″ cake round. Then dust some flour over the top of that. This should give you a pretty good non-stick surface to cook the cake and be able to get it back out.
Carefully pour the cake batter into the round.
Bake the cake at 350 until the top is light golden brown which should take about 25 minutes. You can test whether it’s done by inserting a toothpick in the center. It’s ready when you remove the toothpick and it comes out clean. Transfer the baked cake to a cooling rack.
Once the cake has cooled in the pan it’s time to get it out of the pan and ready to finish. Slip a butter knife around the edge of the cake to loosen up anything on the side that might be sticking. Lay a piece of plastic wrap down on your board or counter top. Do this so that when you turn the cake pan over to remove the cake that it will be easy to flip it right side up again by simply picking up the cake in the plastic wrap and carefully turning it over again.
Now it’s time to locate the longest knife you have in your collection. If you can find a slicing/carving knife that is several inches longer than the diameter of the cake then that is ideal. There are specialty cake cutters that are specifically designed to ease cutting horizontally across a cake like this, but I just used my longest carving knife.
Position the knife horizontally midway up the vertical side of the cake. Begin back and forth motion while carefully monitoring the exit point of the knife so that it doesn’t tilt too high or too low through the opposite side of the cake. With two hands or with the help of a paddle, carefully remove the top of the cake and set it aside.
Lay a sheet of plastic wrap across the empty cake round. With another piece of plastic wrap, cross that one at a 90 degree angle so there is plenty to grab all the way around. If you make these long enough then they will fold nicely right over the top of the cake and it won’t require you to make more plastic wrap cuts in order to cover the top.
Carefully pick up the bottom half of the cake and place it back in the pan over the plastic wrap. I used a pizza paddle which made the job easier.
Spread as much of the drained fruit compote as you would like on top of this layer. You will probably use most of the fruit. Place the top half of the cake over the compote layer.
At this point, the recipe says to cover and place the cake in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours up to 24 hours. I was a little short on time and was not going to have the minimum of 8 hours before I needed to serve this. I thought maybe that the fruit compote would be getting its flavors into the cake over a longer period of time. However, I did have the leftovers 24 hours later and I honestly could not tell any difference. So I’m still a bit puzzled about why or what the extra time in the refrigerator is actually doing. The good news is that you are certainly not going to lose anything and possibly gain something by making this cake the day before you need it…perfect for being able to make the dessert way ahead of time for a party.
Go ahead and slice this up in any size that you want. It hangs together pretty well for even small pieces. The recipe suggests cutting it into 8 pieces.
I was experimenting around with plating ideas and didn’t come up with anything profound, but maybe you’ll have some good ideas you would like to share. Go ahead and whip some whipping cream with some vanilla and powdered sugar for a dollop of cream on the side or top. Retrieve the compote juice and the fruit mixture that you reserved in the refrigerator. You can place as much extra fruit on the plate as you wish and spoon the compote juice over the top of the cake, on the bottom of the plate, beside the cake…it will all work. It adds some additional moisture to the cake and pulls some of those colors from inside to the outside of the dish. I think another time I might put the juice into a small sauce pan and simmer it lightly to reduce it further so it was a bit more of a syrup. If it wasn’t so loose then you might be able to do a few more things with it on the plate to enhance the look.
Using apples instead of peaches because of seasonality issues did work. I would say that it gave the dessert a heartier texture and it would be up to you whether that’s something you want or not. You could use a pear or other similar fruit as well. Or doing this simply as a blueberry dessert would work well too. They don’t call it the “Cook’s dessert” for nothing. It’s making me hungry looking at it and so I better wrap this up.