Friday, August 28, 2009

Peach Blueberry Cake for the Birthday Girl

I swear I know how to make more than just fruit cakes! But it’s summer and there was another birthday in the office…. This time it was Liljana’s, my co-worker and dear friend. She is Albanian and a born locavore, as might be expected from a European who grew up in a Mediterranean climate. I find her stories about family members who never ate food that came out of a box or a bag, drank their fair share of homemade wine, and lived to a ripe old age (108 for Grandpa!) telling. I think I know the reason for their longevity and it’s not because there’s something in the water….

Speaking of boxes and bags, when Liljana and her husband, Alex, moved to New York City and started a family, she did what the majority of Americans do; shopped for food in a grocery store. But as someone accustomed to ultra fresh, highly flavorful ingredients, to say she was underwhelmed by the rows and rows of processed, preserved, and grown-for-transport food she found at Food Emporium and Gristedes would be an understatement.

Once Liljana realized I was a nut about good food, too, we started comparing notes on better shopping options and the Greenmarket came up immediately. Lucky for her there is an easy alternative close to her apartment on the Upper West Side. The Sunday Greenmarket alongside the American Museum of Natural History (Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street) has plenty of fresh produce, homemade breads, eggs, meat, fish, and the most delicious organic milk in the world from Milk Thistle Farm. In fact, the first time she had their milk she flipped. “It tastes just like what I drink in Albania!” Coming from her, that’s something.

Peach Blueberry Cake
Adapted from Gourmet August 2005

This cake is ALL about the fruit, especially the peaches. Every bite is pure peach. Be sure to use the freshest fruit you can find. A couple of farm stands I frequent offer bags of “soft” peaches which are usually less expensive and, while not the best for eating out of hand, are perfectly fine for baking. I picked up Jersey yellow peaches and blueberries over the weekend from Malanga’s farm stand in Warren, New Jersey. To the recipe below I added 2 extra peaches and my cup of blueberries was heaping.

For Pastry
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

For Filling
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
2 pounds firm-ripe large peaches (about 4), halved lengthwise, pitted, and each half cut lengthwise into fourths (see headnote)
1 cup blueberries (1/2 pint) (see headnote)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment: 9 – 9 ½” (24 cm) light-colored springform pan, an electric coffee/spice grinder

Make Pastry
Pulse together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Add egg and vanilla and pulse just until dough clumps and begins to form a ball, about 15 pulses.

Press dough onto bottom and evenly (about ¼” thick) all the way up side of springform pan with floured fingertips. Chill pastry in pan until firm, about 10 minutes.

Make filling while pastry chills:
Put oven rack in middle position of oven and preheat oven to 375°.

Grind 2 tablespoons sugar with flour and tapioca in grinder until tapioca is powdery, then transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining 6 tablespoons sugar. Add peaches, blueberries, and lemon juice and gently toss to coat. Spoon filling into pastry and bake, loosely covered with a sheet of foil, until filling is bubbling in center and crust is golden, about 1 ¾ hours (my cake stayed in almost 2 ¼ hours before the center started to bubble).

Transfer cake in pan to a rack and cool, uncovered, 20 minutes, then carefully remove side of pan. Cool cake to barely warm or room temperature, then cut into thick wedges with a sharp knife before serving.

Pastry may be made and pressed into pan 1 day ahead and chilled, wrapped well in plastic wrap. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before filling.

Serves 8

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