Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Peach and Cherry Cake

Last week at the market I became so excited by the arrival of summer fruit that I bought too much to carry. Does that ever happen to you? I couldn't help it. There were peaches, apricots, nectarines, watermelon (with flavour) and most excellently, cherries. Because Christmas happens in the summertime for us down here, the plump red fruit have taken on a festive significance. They’re piled high in Christmas fruit displays, they feature heavily in recipes and the glossiest specimens are poured straight from the farms into our lounge rooms through holiday season supermarket advertisements on the television. It’s almost impossible not to buy bag after bag. But for me they mean so much more than this.

Cherries remind me of sitting on the whitewashed steps of my grandmother’s house, shaded from the hot summer sun by the lemon tree. We’d come back from a swim and she’d be in her bedroom for siesta, but there’d always be a big plate of freshly cut fruit chilling in the fridge for us – giant slices of red pink watermelon with shiny black pips and icy cold peaches with heavy perfume and always, scattered about on top, were a couple of large handfuls of cherries. When my grandmother did it, the cherries always fell perfectly onto the plate, into the crevices made by the other fruit as if she’d placed them there one by one. And so we’d sit on the back steps, with crickets buzzing and the syrupy smell of sunburnt fig trees thick in the air, drinking tall glasses of water, eating cherries. I buy lots of them now, because every so often, a really good one will take me back there.

But I bought so many this week that I decided to make this cake. And I’m glad I did, because it really does showcase how delicious cherries are – and peaches. This cake is wonderful because you can change the fruit for whatever you have on hand and it is always beautiful, as long as you stick roughly to amounts. My mother and I make this often – sometimes she’ll spoon the pulp of a passionfruit over the top before baking and sometimes I’ll throw in some apple and mix cinnamon into the sugar topping. This summer version with peaches and cherries is moist and light, studded with big pieces of sweet baked fruit. It is perfect with a cup of tea in the morning, or even as a dessert if served slightly warm with a dollop of thick, thick cream. The recipe below is for one big cake, but sometimes I'll make it as two half-sized cakes, as in the pictures here. One for us and one for a friend (you give them the less wonky one). Happy Birthday Nicole.x

Peach and Cherry Cake
Adapted from Tessa Kiros’ Twelve

900g – 1kg of fruit (here about 700gm peaches and 250gm cherries)
150g sugar plus 2 tbsp to top
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla essence
250g “00” or all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted plus a little extra for greasing
125ml (½ cup) milk

Preheat oven to 180˚C (350˚F). Butter and line a 24cm (9½ inch) loose bottom cake tin with baking paper.

Pit cherries and halve. For peaches, halve and remove stone. Cut into quarters if the fruit are large. Big pieces here are nice.

With an electric beater, beat eggs, 150g sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Add sifted flour and baking powder, mixing well to form a smooth, thick batter. Whisk in melted butter and milk.

Throw a few pieces of peach into the bottom of the lined tin, then scrape out the batter on top. Tip the rest of the fruit onto the batter. Don’t worry about pushing it under the batter – the oven will do the rest. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp of sugar over the top and pop into the oven. Bake for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden and delicious. This is a delicate cake when hot, so let cool before removing from tin. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve, if desired.

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