People, listen up right now: you MUST make this cake. I implore you. Make it for yourselves, make it for friends and loved ones, make 10 of them, but just do it already before the nectarines revert back to being the rock-hard, scentless garden stones they are the rest of the year. I’m going to dispense with my usual fluffity-fluff and get to the point, because the longer you spend reading this, the less time you have to get nectarines while they’re in season, which means you’ll only be able to make 15 of these cakes and not 20. And that would be an utter shame. So; onward.
Look, it’s obvious I love nectarines, and peaches. I’ve conjured up a way to treat myself to peachy desserts year-round using canned peaches (those of you who just gasped; I’m sorry. But it’s really quite good, and you should try it). But it’s just not the same, is it. It’s perfect for the peachy cravings, but when you have the real thing…well; you know.
During the fall and winter, I lull myself into thinking it is, and tell myself when peaches and nectarines finally make their return, that I’ll be cool about it. Laid-back, even. I mean, they come during a time of fresh strawberries, the first onslaught of blueberries, and all sorts of other fresh produce; why make such a fuss?
And then, I see them at the farmers’ market, from across the way. The nectarines. The peaches. Their pretty, speckled orange and red and golden sunset skin calls to me. Says, “get over here, little lady; let us pinch your cheeks. It’s been too long.” And I walk over, and I smell them before I even hit the little bushel basket they’re sitting in.
And I’m a goner. I buy as many as my hands can carry and I rush home to happily eat them for snacks, dinner, breakfast, whatever. But this year, I am armed for produce’s busy season: for during the dead of winter, I bought the Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food and I have been anticipating this moment. Inside its pages is a guide for everything from how to buy, store, and use produce to how to buy meat and beer. It’s perfect for me, because I want and need to know how to buy things at their best. Some things, I totally get. Others, I wouldn’t have the first clue.
In it lives this recipe, now known in this house as The Cake Shannon Will Be Making for No Reason All Summer Long. Because it’s – no exaggerating – probably the best cake, just the cake part, I’ve maybe ever had. It’s a delicious buttermilk/vanilla number, and it’s awesome. Total summer. Very similar to an exceptionally good bottom half of a New York-style coffee cake. In fact, so much like my very own family’s New York-style coffee cake that I may try this with the crumb topping we do and see how it works together.
I know. You’re drooling, and I completely understand. Take a moment.
But then the Bi-Rite had to top this already-marvelous vanilla cake with fresh nectarines. Mountains of them, to be precise. And – best part – they never once said to peel them. And honestly, I understand peeling apples for pie, and even peaches due to their furry nature, but nectarines? They have such a delicate little flesh on them, why bother. And so I didn’t. And truly, you would never notice.
See that? That’s nectarine juice, my friend, and it streaks all through this cake. Now don’t you want nectarine juice oozing through the next cake you make? I do. Which is why I’ll be making a few more of these.
I can’t think of a better cake for breakfast, brunch, whenever. Certainly my taste buds knew no bounds when it came to the time of day for eating this. I think it’s best just cooled from the oven, but it’s also delicious the following 2 days. If you’re serving it for guests and you like a big production made over you, make it that afternoon if you’re serving it for dessert. If you don’t want to trouble with it, or you want to spruce up a cake which has been sitting overnight, liquefy some fresh peach or apricot jam in the microwave, stir until it’s broken up, and let cool slightly. Using a pastry brush, gently brush a very light coating of this makeshift glaze over top your cake and it’ll look like it just came from the oven again.
I promise you, if you make one of these, you won’t be able to sleep at night unless there’s one around at all times.
Adapted just slightly from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough. Which I would highly recommend to anyone who likes to buy fresh but doesn’t always know what to look for when you’re out, er, looking. I’m the first to admit I don’t always know, and now that I have this book, I’m learning new things all the time.
Nectarine Upside-Down Cake
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, DIVIDED
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 5 medium nectarines, cut into 1/2 slices (and by that, I mean slice it like you would any round thing, but have the skin side be about 1/2 inch)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- a little over 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (don’t heap, but “overfill” if you wish. or just use the 1/2 teaspoon if that scares you)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- peach or apricot jam (for day-later refreshing of the cake, optional)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Butter at least the sides (the bottom will have a butter mixture, so I didn’t bother) of either your cake pan or your Springform pan (see below).
In a small saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of your butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is smooth (you don’t want it to boil or start to become candy or anything), about 4 minutes. transfer to either a round 9 x 3 inch cake pan (a deep cake pan, yes) or do what I do, and transfer to a 9-inch Sprinform pan, spreading the mixture evenly across the bottom.
note: if you’re using the Springform pan, may I remind you that brown sugar goo will fall. And it will fall all over the bottom of your oven, so I suggest lining a lipped half sheet pan with aluminium foil and sticking it directly under the cake while baking so it catches any drippy sugar. Because there will be drippy sugar. Worth it? yes. I imagine if you used the tall cake pan, goo may come up and over the sides, so employ the same method for it, just in case.
Arrange the nectarine slides over top of the butter/sugar mixture in an overlapping spiral pattern, doing the best you can (I wasn’t fancy about it). When you’ve covered the bottom, build another layer of fruit on top, filling in the blank spaces left by the first layer. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter with the granulated sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. With the motor running, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl down as needed. I find this works best when you break them into a glass measuring cup and pour them in one at a time, FYI. Then you don’t run the risk of shells.
Add the buttermilk and vanilla and mix again just until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until the batter comes together, 15-30 seconds.
Pour the batter slowly over the fruit layers, spreading it out as you go. Carefully and gently smooth the top to even out the batter over the nectarines, being careful not to move them around. This isn’t as difficult as you would think; the brown sugar mixture acts as a sort-of glue to hold them in place, and the slices themselves do a decent job of holding steady.
Bake until wooden skewer comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes, checking at the 40-minute mark for doneness. It should be a lovely golden color and shiny like the sun; it’s very pretty when it comes out.
No matter what pan you chose to use, cool the cake on a rack for 30 minutes in the pan. If you used a regular cake pan, run a small knife around the edge of the pan and turn out the cake onto a large plate or cake stand. If you used a Sprinform, release the side lever of the cake pan, remove the ring, and flip over onto a cake plate or cake stand. Swiftness is good here. Let cool completely before serving.
I had no problem with my cake unearthing itself from the pan; not one little nectarine clung to the bottom (top?); i suspect that’s the less-vacuumy nature of a Sprinform at work. If it seems to not want to come out, give it a quick little shake and it should release for you.
Eat heartily and often; this cake really is best the first or second day. You can store it for up to 3 days at room temperature, but it truly is at its most impressive the same day.