Friday, August 21, 2015

Grandma Ellie's Peaches and Cream Layer Cake

I've been feeling very nostalgic lately.  I guess with all the family birthdays going on this month, it's kinda hard not to look back and wonder where did all the time go?  Last week, my grandma turned 87 years old.  Wow.  87.  Really?  For some reason, in my mind, she just stayed this 60 year old lady in a cool sports car.

I love my Grandma Ellie.  She's a cool and classy lady. When I was young, she would drive us around in her blue 1980's Mustang.  It was just a standard model, not one of those souped-up versions, but I still thought it was an awesome car.  She'd play Christian music on the radio and I'd listen to her sing along with her soft sweet voice.  I don't know why that memory stands out to me.  I was just riding in the car with Grandma.  But something about it just makes me smile - and I guess that's all that really matters.  Sometimes everyday moments can be just as special as the big events we share with the ones we love. 

As I was thinking about what to make for her birthday, I drew inspiration from a summertime classic: peaches and cream.  This dessert is so quick and easy to make and yet it looks effortlessly elegant on a plate.  The combination of fresh peaches and rich whipped cream tastes refreshing and decadent all in one bite.  It's the perfect treat on a hot summer day.  And with peach season in full swing, how can I not take advantage of this amazing fruit at its peak flavor?  (Seriously, go get some peaches before they're gone.)

Grandma LOVES traditional American desserts like apple pie, red velvet cake and lemon meringue pie.  Peaches and cream would be right up her alley.  So for her birthday cake, I decided to make a classic vanilla cake with sliced peaches and whipped cream peeking out between the layers.  Since she's not a big fan of frosting I left the cake layers exposed and to be honest, I think it looks even prettier that way.

There are two lessons I learned from making this cake.  First, keep your eyes on the peaches when you're blanching them.  Don't drop them in the boiling water and then walk away for even one minute (yes, even if you set your timer).  I made that mistake for the first batch and they ended up being cooked halfway through.  I watched the next batch like a hawk so I won't make the same mistake twice.  Second, get more peaches than you think you'll need because you're bound to eat a few slices (or more) while you're making this. And you'll spoon a few dollops of cream on top of them too.

I just love the look of this cake!  There's just something inherently rustic but at the same time so very chic about it.  Don't you think?  I could imagine this on display at an old-timey bakery or a trendy dessert shop.  It simply looks like a classic cake that never goes out of style - the perfect cake for my Grandma Ellie.

When I brought this over to my grandma's BBQ birthday party, she absolutely adored it.  I topped it off with sparkling candles and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her.  At the end of the night, after we filled our bellies with barbecue, corn casserole and potato salad, I wasn't sure if anyone had room for a slice of cake. But they did and they really loved it.

I think this is gonna be one of those moments that I'll look back and remember...and smile :-)

Grandma Ellie's Peaches and Cream Layer Cake
Makes 8-12 servings 
Allergy Note: contains wheat and dairy ingredients

3 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. honey
2 Tbs. vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups low-fat or whole milk (lukewarm)

cream filling:
1 8-oz. bar cream cheese, cold
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

5-6 yellow peaches*
1 Tbs. honey

*If fresh peaches are not available, you can substitute with frozen or canned peaches.  Other fruit options you can try are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas, kiwi fruit or mangoes. 

For the cake: 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour the sides of three 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans and place a parchment paper circle in the bottom of each cake pan.

Sift together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Slowly add in vanilla extract and honey. In a glass measuring cup, mix together the wet ingredients: vinegar, orange juice and milk. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture until blended well.  Pour into prepared cake pans (about 1/2 full).

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry and the sides of the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling: 

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar at low speed until combined. Slowly add whipping cream. Add in vanilla extract.  Increase the speed a little and whip to soft peaks.

For the peaches:

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Score the bottom of each peach with an X.  Gently place the peaches into the boiling water for 1-2 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the peaches.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches into a bowl of ice water to cool for a few minutes before peeling the skin. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits.  Slice them into wedges and place them in a bowl with the honey to lightly glaze them.

Assembling the cake:

Spread 1/3 of the cream filling over the bottom cake layer.  Top with 1/3 of the sliced peaches.  Repeat the process for the middle and top cake layers.  Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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