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Howl to the Moon | Peach Upside-Down Cake

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake | Delightful CrumbIt’s late summer, a final mellow moment before the chaos of fall for some, already weeks into the school year for others, same old, same old for others still. I am, for the fifth year in a row, feeling entirely surprised by the warmer weather that has descended upon the Bay Area on the coattails of August just as my spirit has decided it’s ready for autumn to begin. The markets are filled to overflowing, from California back to Michigan. It’s the last gasp, the last hurrah—but it’s a long and jubilant one, a howl to the moon.

The truth is that at this time of year, I regularly wish for that grand sensation of being eight or ten or twelve years old, with a wild new school year on the horizon, there to wrap me up in its hopeful tornado of activity. The great big world far off but nonetheless my oyster, limitations and setbacks unknown, as full of promise as a school year for this kid who really liked school. All this, with new notebooks to boot.

We adults don’t get all that, but we can eat cake whenever we damn well please, one small but not insignificant perk of being old enough to understand the rapid-fire chaos of the news and content with our existential angst while also dealing with the many trials, trivial and less so, of daily life.

(Note: This cake reference was not meant to invoke Tina Fey’s “sheet-caking,” but I see now that it may, so I will pause here to recommend that we all both eat cake and get off our bums to do something.)

As for existential angst, I can’t stop listening to Regina Spektor’s “Older and Taller,” thinking yes Regina, yes! which probably says something about how I experience the world. There’s this perfect phrase that encapsulates how I often feel about the tasks and experiences in life that feel so important but also almost overly cyclical, like the aspects of our jobs that feed right into doing them all over again and teaching and even parenting: And you retired just in time / You were about to be fired / For being so tired from hiring the ones / Who will take your place.

It’s genius! I just never say it that eloquently, so people look at me with confusion, like maybe I’m unhinged. Is it because she sounds so perky when she sings it? Perhaps that’s the trick. People are thinking, Well, at least there’s that pop rock backdrop.

And why not? That’s the best we can do some days.

And so, like a pop rock backdrop for our existential angst, we create the magic and the hope, both to celebrate such things as peaches and summertime and for the push we need to carry on. This cake is on the one hand comforting and on the other a big joyful hurrah, plus it’s easy enough to throw together (promise!) that no particular prompting is necessary. This would have been just as appropriate at the height of July but feels like a mighty fine fit for late summer, too. Thankfully, you can swap in the fruit of the moment and enjoy it throughout much of the year.

While it bakes, the most wonderful and homey smell wafts from the kitchen, laced with the scent of jammy fruit and butter, too, as the sugary mixture at the bottom of the pan bubbles. It reminds me of childhood, free and easy and comforting.

Apparently I haven’t yet written about this cookbook, which is a shame, but I’m here to remedy that now. It’s such a gem! So many of the things I said about Samin’s cookbook are also true about Julia Turshen‘s first solo project. It’s a book about small victories, a philosophy I can definitely get behind. Counter to the message I feel I’m getting from so much food media and the internet in general, this book wants you to succeed. Julia wants you to eat dinner and feel good about yourself—victorious, even! I’ve never met her in person, but cooking through this book, it really does feel like she’s right there in the kitchen with me, or maybe just over in the dining room, shouting encouraging instructions, and either way, I adore her. There are lots of suggestions for substitutions, adjustments, spin-offs and more, plus themed menus and lists of seven suggestions each on such topics as what do to with a can of chickpeas, how to prepare mussels and ideas for easy desserts. Among the recipes I’ve made are Julia’s Caesar (the first Caesar salad I’ve been truly excited about and a favorite of Ben’s), Smoky Eggplant Dip, Avocado & Kimchi Toast (super clever combination), Curried Red Lentils, Afternoon Cake (YES), Parmesan Soup with Tiny Pasta & Peas.

This is a great little cake for your Labor Day celebration, weeknight craving, last minute gathering or lazy Sunday. Don’t fear the flip, and use whatever fruit you find. I suggest whipped cream, and also eating this for breakfast. I might not be a kid anymore, and I might feel more than my fair share of angst, but I’m doing my darndest to keep howling at the moon.

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake | Delightful Crumb

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake

Slightly adapted from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

This is a friendly cake, open to a variety of adaptations. Julia calls for an 8-inch cast iron skillet, but mine is 9 inches and worked just fine. The original recipe called for apricots, but other stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums will all work nicely. Or, try it with blueberries, blackberries and/or raspberries. Julia also notes that nut milk, rice milk or coconut milk can be substituted for the cow’s milk called for below.

I like to serve this with whipped cream, preferably with a little sour cream added so it has some tang. However, vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or even a dollop of yogurt would be delicious.

Serves 8 generously

11 tablespoons (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Packed 3 tablespoons (35 g) dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 lb (455 g) fresh peaches or other stone fruit, pitted and cut into thick wedges

3/4 cup (150 g) natural cane sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cup (180 g) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (60 g) whole wheat flour, or more all-purpose

Whipped cream, for serving, optional

Put a large piece of aluminum foil on the oven rack below the one you’ll be baking the cake on. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly butter the sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch cast iron pan with the butter wrapper.

In a large bowl, use a spatula, wooden spoon or your fingers to mix 3 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the skillet. Set the bowl aside.

Arrange the peach wedges in a single layer on top of the butter mixture. Concentric circles are neat and pretty, but a more haphazard arrangement will do just as well. Squeeze all of the slices in even if it looks tight, as they will reduce somewhat as the cake bakes.

In the same large bowl, use a whisk to combine the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter with the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. (Don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled, which may happen especially if the milk was cold but isn’t a problem.) Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt and the baking powder. Add the flour and whisk until just combined; finish mixing with a spatula if needed.

Use a spatula to gently dollop the batter over the peaches, being careful not to disrupt the fruit too much. Smooth the batter with the spatula or an offset spatula. Tap the pan to settle the batter.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in its center comes out clean (be sure to stop before you get to the jammy fruit), about 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the skillet on a cooling rack for about 30 minutes. Use a butter knife to loosen it from the skillet. Put a plate or other serving dish on top of the pan, put one hand on top of the dish and hold the handle of the pan with the other hand. Gently but assertively flip to invert the cake onto the serving dish. If any of the brown sugar mixture and/or fruit sticks to the pan, just use a knife or spatula to remove it and place it on the top of the cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if you wish. Then, eat the leftovers for breakfast with coffee.

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake | Delightful Crumb