Monday, January 25, 2010

Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake

I made this cake today because my son Nate picked it out from pictures in the Baking With Julia cookbook. He has been asking me to make an upside down cake forever! I was going to hold off on it until I found some nectarines, but I found some at Sprouts last week that were beautiful.

I learned some new things today. A chiffon cake is a cake that is made without the customary butter in the batter. It is meant to be light as air and is instead made with oil and meringue and not a whole lot of flour to weigh it down. I also learned that this is a French style cake-no frostings, just fruit and sometimes cream for their sweet toppings. This is uncustomary for me, because I like frosting better than the cake, but it's fun to try something different.

This cake is two layers of soft, light cake with a streusel filling between it, topped with caramel covered fruit. So let's jump in!

The cookbook calls for making the topping first. But I think it is more efficient to toast the almonds first so that they cook while you make the other elements. So, take 1/4 cup of unblanched almonds, spread them out on a pan, and allow them to roast for between 10-15 minutes. Stir them a couple of times to make sure they got toasted on all sides. This brings out the nice earthy flavor of the almonds to give your cake more dimension.

While the almonds are roasting, take a 10 inch springform pan and place 1/2 stick of butter in the bottom. Place the pan on your stove top and cook the butter over medium heat. When it is melted, remove the pan from the heat and spread out 1 cup of dark brown sugar over the melted butter. Pat it down with your hands.

Next, take your nectarines and slice them into eights. I only needed 3 nectarines, but you may need 4 if they are small or if you want more fruit on your cake. Place them in circles on top of the brown sugar. I thought it was pretty to reverse their direction on the second circle. Place the springform to the side.

By now the almonds should be done roasting. Take them out and put them into a food processor. You will also put in 1/2 stick of butter, 1/3 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of ginger (I didn't end up having this, so I used nutmeg instead. It was good.) and 1/2 cups of quick oats. The book is very careful to say to not use instant oats.

Pulse the food processor to mix this all together and make sure the butter and almonds are turned into coarse meal.

Spread this meal out onto a jelly roll pan lined with parchment and bake for 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. This smelled amazing while it baked in my oven!

Now this is a very different way for me to make a cake. I have never made a cake with steps like these.

Sift together your dry ingredients, which are 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder 1 tsp of baking soda, 1/4 tsp of kosher salt (if you don't have kosher salt, go out immediately and buy some and use it in all your cooking. You will thank me later). Next, take 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of lemon juice and whisk them together in a large bowl.

When they are nicely combined, you can add your dry ingredients. Keep whisking as you do, until they are mixed together and a pretty pale yellow color. I've never whisked a batter before by hand, but it isn't too hard. Kind of fun, actually.

Now make your meringue. Take 6 eggs whites and whip them with your Kitchen Aid until foamy. Pour in 1/2 cup of sugar and whip on high until stiff peaks form. See how glossy and shiny it is? This is the prettiest meringue I've ever made.

Take 1/2 of the meringue and pour it into the batter. Fold in with a spatula. I like using a spatula, but I know some people use a balloon whisk. I don't own one of those because it wouldn't fit in my drawers. When this is combined, add the remainder of the egg whites. The purpose here is that you don't want to deflate the egg whites. The meringue makes the cake billowy, soft and light.

Pour one half of the batter of ther nectarines in the spingform pan. Top this with some of the streusel. This adds an amazing crunchy texture to the softness and contrasts as well as sweet and salty does.

Top with the remaining batter and bake for 45 minutes or until done.

I cannot tell you how great my house smelled while this was baking. All I could smell was the butter and brown sugar caramelizing. Heaven.

And here it is! It isn't perfect, kind of a rustically beautiful cake. But none of that matters, because of how it tastes. It's light, not too sweet, and entirely wonderful.

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