By Melissa Houle
My mother’s recipe file positively bristles with recipes clipped from magazines during her decades as principle cook for our family. A family that consisted of herself and four children to whom dinner was never quite complete without a dessert. Recipes saved so long ago, their original provenance is now forgotten. Testing recipes on us was hit or miss, but the hits are mostly still filed there. One of the most enduring family dessert successes were the cakes we called “Fruit picture cakes.” They were such a favorite, they went into her cookbook of family recipes that endured the test of time and tastebuds, The Muse of Menus, published in 1988 by John Daniel.
Fruit kuchens are easy and delicious, especially in late summer, the high holy days of stone fruit season. Kuchens can be made with sliced peaches or nectarines, pears or plums. The cake is a simple but delicious buttery mattress for the fruit which provides a tart, textural counterpoint. Most often, we ate this cake with plums, as all one had to do was wash and halve small Italian plums (also called prune plums) and embed them in the cake batter just before putting the whole cake in the oven. It was not only tasty but fascinating to look at, as the fruit would sink down during baking, making the finished cake look the site of a plum meteor shower. It is a quick and easy cake to make, impressive to look at and I've never met anyone who didn't like eating them.
In keeping with this week’s Salon Kitchen Challenge however, I’ll give the recipe for the peach variation of Fruit Kuchen.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 cup flour sifted
½ tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated lemon zest.
2 or 3 peaches depending on size, peeled and sliced into 8ths (approximately.)
Method: Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the three eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Measure then sift in the cup of flour and mix until just combined. Add the vanilla and lemon peel and combine.
Grease and flour a 10 inch round cake pan, scoop in the batter and smooth it around. The batter is fairly substantial.
Peel peaches and cut into eighths Arrange on the batter either in circles or rows, but allow some batter to show between pieces of fruit. Sprinkle with a little sugar and bake for 30 minutes
While the cake is baking mix together:
¾ cup ground almonds
2 TBS soft butter
4 TBS each of brown sugar and flour
Almond Streusel Topping
Combine until you have a nice, crumbly streusel topping. Sprinkle it around the outer edge of the warm cake, and return cake to oven for ten more minutes, or until cake is firm at the center.
Sprinkle on the Topping:
Remove, and cool cake on a wire rack. Can be served warm or at room temperature. The cake does not require anything else, but can be served with ice cream, sorbet, whipped cream, or crème fraiche.
To make cake with plums:
Buy about 1 lb small Italian plums. Rinse them off, split them in half and remove the pits. Arrange plum halves cut side up over the surface of the cake at random. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve as described above.
Nectarines: Peel and thinly slice 2 or 3 ripe nectarines. Arrange on batter in concentric circles, allowing some batter to show. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake as directed above.
Pears: Substitute anise extract for the vanilla in the cake batter. Use smallish ripe pears. Slice pears in half lengthwise, and slice off the rounded backs, as well as removing the seeds. Arrange pears cut side up on cake like wheel spokes. Sprinkle cake and fruit with coarse sugar and some anise seeds, and bake as directed above.