POUND CAKE HOLIDAY
Fresh apricots, though visually stunning, can sometimes be a little lackluster when eaten out of hand. Whether too tart or too mealy, or simply shy on flavor, patience is a stone fruit virtue. There’s a small window in summer, sometime between July and August, when both apricots and nectarines align at the farmers’ market. Drizzling the two with honey before roasting them in the oven creates a vibrant, jam-like fruit topping that holds its shape. You can serve it as is, but its destiny should be simple pound cake.
A while back, before my sister and her crew relocated from the Emerald City to Toronto, jaunts to Seattle were a yearly treat. Attired in my very best stretchy waistband pants, @bkgray66 and I combed the city in search of stellar baked goods. Though the selection was far too vast to cram into a few days, believe me, we tried.
In retrospect, other than Tom Douglas’ coconut cream pie, some of my favorite sweets were generous slices of pound cake paired with a quintessential Seattle coffee. Two standouts come to mind; one was from The Fat Hen Café in Ballard, and the other was from Macrina Bakery in downtown Seattle. Far from flashy, comfortably rustic, the cakes were flavored with plenty of citrus and pleasantly crunchy from a blend of flours.
My day job doesn’t diminish my appetite for sweets, but there are days when I have a hankering for a slice of something other than pie. I’ve baked many versions of those Seattle-inspired cakes, sometimes in a loaf pan, sometimes in a small springform. And when apricots and nectarines sing in unison, despite the heat, it’s well worth turning on the oven. Bake the pound cake on low and the stone fruit on high. After it cools, drape the fruit over a generous slice of cake, add a little whipped cream, and pretend you're on vacation.
The peach pincher next to me at the Farmers’ Market is oblivious to my raised eyebrow. The meticulously arranged pyramids of blush pink freestones can’t speak for themselves, so I speak for them. “You know,” I begin tentatively, the words falling out of my mouth headed towards the woman assaulting the peaches, “every time you squeeze a peach, it leaves a bruise.” I have chosen my target poorly; the woman is not merely sensitive but defensive. “I’m not squeezing them,” she replies, mildly outraged. “I just want the ripe ones.” Gravitating from corrugated carton to corrugated carton, pinching and sniffing and gruffly handling the fragile stone fruit, I swear I can see the peaches grimacing in anticipation. Scooping up a quart of freestones and balancing them on top of four ears of corn, I casually mention to the peach assailant, “If they’re not ripe right now, you can leave them on the counter for a day or two...” My suggestion is met with icy silence; I abandon my peach evangelist mission reminding myself that Farmers’ Market-ing can be a tough sport.
Despite the fact that my weather app is indicating unhealthy air quality, I return from my produce pilgrimage and immediately turn on the oven. The peaches are agreeably ripe and incredibly fragrant. Baking a peach pie doesn’t require any special skills, but it does require the baker to make choices. Peeling the peaches and par-baking the crust isn’t mandatory, but I think it’s well worth the effort. Pulverized Minute tapioca, or cornstarch, or tapioca starch are all fine thickeners, and just as I prefer to shy on the thickener rather than add too much, the same holds true for the sweetener. Waiting patiently for the peaches to ripen on their own timetable may not suit everyone, but the fragrance of peaches escaping through a criss-cross lattice is one of the true gifts of summer.
I’ve been known to refer to July 4th as #thanksgivingjunior and I’m not budging on this sentiment. An awful lot of fruit surrounded by pie crust exited the bakery in the last few doughs, I mean days. This 4th of July in particular, brings with it a sort of manic urgency for gathering. Pie-ing for the people can be stressful and despite my long-sleeved work shirt, I always manage one distinctive burn, right where the rolled up sleeve and the oven mitt leave a gap. It’s a good reminder, that holiday oven burn, not to take things for granted. For instance, sharing some time and some pie with your favorite people.
Wishing you a pie-filled 4th, surrounded by your dearest. I’ll be nibbling away at the cheesecake in the photos. Sure, it doesn’t look like pie, but it’s basically a custardy filling wrapped in crust with a generous amount of stone fruit. The particulars for this cheesecake are scrawled on an index card tuced into my grandmother’s well-worn recipe file. The official title is, “Rosetta’s Cheesecake- Good for a Party.” It is good for a party, even if it’s simply a party of two. Happy 4th.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm