an upside-down cake
September 4, 2012 § 19 Comments
As you can see, I had a hard time wrapping my head around this cake. It looks nothing like the caramelized and streusel-filled Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon cake by pastry chef Mary Bergin in Baking with Julia. And while my version has a pretty face, I do wish I had remembered to include the streusel; I made it but forgot to add it when filling the cake pan. My cake could have used that extra punch.
Replicating Mary’s nectarine cake was just not to be. First of all, this has been a great year for fruit in Colorado, and our most important fruit crop is probably peaches (move over Georgia). I had bought a case, “inherited” a case and then was given cases of peaches. I needed to preserve the onslaught of peaches without having an extra freezer or the time it takes to make several batches of jam or butter; these babies were RIPE and needed to be processed right away. So I now have several pint jars of canned peaches in light syrup in the basement. I used three of them to make this cake! I opted for granulated instead of the brown sugar under the peaches thinking I’d get some caramelization during baking.
Chiffon cakes, like genoise (remember June’s French Strawberry cake) rely heavily on the nature of eggs, in this case separated yolks and whites. Since I used these lovely farm-sourced eggs which vary in size as well as color, I selected the ones closest to large size. You can also measure them if needed allowing 1/2 oz per yolk, and 1 oz per white. (Check out this new and amusing way to separate eggs.) At this point, the rest of the dry and wet ingredients have been combined and are just waiting for perfectly whipped eggs whites at medium stiffness. If the whites are under whipped they won’t contain enough air to lift the batter, but if they’re over whipped they contain too much air and end up popping as the heated air expands in the oven and your cake collapses. At sea level, you can whip the whites a little stiffer than mine at 5000 feet, but definitely don’t let them start looking like popcorn or weep, both signs of severe over beating and impending cake disaster. Start over, it’s worth it.
“Sacrifice” 1/4 to 1/3 of the whipped eggs whites to lighten the batter. I just quickly whisk in with the mixer attachment and avoid one more things to wash. Don’t worry if the whites are streaky in the batter at this point.
Now add the rest of the egg whites and quickly fold in with the spatula. Stop once the batter looks uniformly mixed. If you continue to fold pass this point, you start to deflate the batter and are also on the road to a tough cake.
Working quickly to avoid losing the precious breath of your cake, pour it into the prepared cake pan (don’t forget to have buttered the sides) and level by just tilting the pan around instead of using the spatula to smooth the surface (the less touching, the better now). Here’s the cake just before going into the oven, and here’s my streusel I discover in the refrigerator just after that. Oh yeah, forgot to bake and cool the streusel, so it’s not going to happen this time.
Another altitude adjustment I made was to increase the oven temperature by 25°F for the first 10-15 minutes of baking, but again I forgot to turn the oven back down to the correct temperature. So it’s a little dark on top, but you see how level it is as the top sets before it can dome too much and then collapse. The final verdict after altitude adjustments and boo-boos? Pretty peaches, but the cake’s a little too wet (almost like pudding, if you like that) just underneath them. Beautiful yellow color, but actually a little too eggy in taste for chiffon to me. A little bit of a plain-jane, should’ve remembered the streusel layer and used the brown sugar with the peaches.