The children were already at the poolside with my sister, so I joined them after grabbing a slice of seedless watermelon and a white peach. The weather hasn't been it's usual torrid this summer in Bologna and the pool was almost empty. Only cloudless days of more than 25 degC attract people to this pool nestled among the hills above the river bed of the Setta...but when one is used to British summers, any rainless day is a good day to take the plunge. In between a dip and a dive, my sister told me I was going to join her and a few friends for an alfresco dinner to welcome back Barbara, who has spent the entirety of the summer in Provence, selling her beautiful jewellery made of glazed ceramic. CAKE was in demand.
The day before we had stopped at a farm on the Po plane to buy fruit and vegetables on our way back from visiting my mum's family. Several bags of beautifully fresh produce (white and yellow peaches, plums, onions, watermelons, potatoes, peppers) came to only 10€, making me realise how much the middle men and supermarkets must make on the skins of both farmers and consumers. With all the fresh fruit I thought I would bake a tart tatin, but the idea of making a pate sable didn't appeal to me due to the heat in the house. So I opted for an upside down cake based on the tatin principle of pre-cooked fruit at the bottom of the cake tin, covered with a sponge mixture, rather than shortcrust pastry.
For this cake you need to use a pan that can go on the hob as well as in the oven. I found a cast iron pan of 23cm diameter, similar to a Le Creuset. I put some butter and vanilla caster sugar, which my mum obtained by zapping together in a coffee grinder a couple of very dried vanilla pods and sugar. I chose some of the firm round plums and a white peach we had bought and after cutting them I placed them in the pan, cut side up. As the plums tend to have a sharp flavour after cooking, I sprinkled them with dark muscovado sugar and cinnamon, then cooked them on the hob on low heat for about 10 minutes.
While the fruit was cooking I prepared a sponge using a mix of 00 flour and rice flour, eggs from my aunts' hens, butter, yogurt and sugar....as always just making up a recipe as I went, hoping it would be good. Well, it was very good and extremely soft, due to the rice flour and the addition of whisked egg whites at the end. I wrote down the quantities, for once, so I hope you can enjoy it too. My only regret is that one cannot find any double cream in Italy, otherwise it would have been a near perfect experience! My inter said that I have become truly "British" and I think she means that I am truly anglicised in my taste for moist cakes.
Here you go, the first instalment of what is likely to be a very scattery blog production.
1 white peach
2 tbsp vanilla caster sugar (see above)
2 tsp ground cinnamon + 2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
150g butter, softened
150 g caster sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
3 eggs, separated, whites whisked to stiff peaks with a pinch of salt
150g 00 flour
50g rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g plain yogurt
1 tbsp double cream
Wash and dry the fruit. Cut the plums and peach into halves and take the stones out. Put 20g butter and vanilla caster sugar in a pan and melt on low heat. Remove from the heat and arrange the fruit cut side up making sure you leave as little space as possible between the pieces of fruit. Sprinkle with some muscovado sugar and cinnamon and place on the heat again for about 10minutes, until the fruit has softened up.
In the meantime, whisk the remaining butter with the caster sugar in a bowl, until light and fluffy. Periodically clean the sides of the bowl with a silicon spatula. Add the yolks one by one making sure the previous one is well incorporated before adding the following. If necessary add a bit of the muscovado sugar. Add to the mix the remaining muscovado and the two flours, along with the baking powder, cream and yogurt.
Last, incorporate very softly the egg whites, previously whisked with a pinch of salt. Pour on top of the partially cooked fruit and bake for 50 minutes in a pre-heated oven (180 degC static or 170 degC fan). When cooked (check with a wooden toothpick to make sure the centre is not still moist), take out of the oven. Leave for 5 minutes, then turn upside down onto a serving plate. If some bits stick to the bottom of the pan, you can remove them and patch the top of the cake (which was at the bottom of the pan in the oven). Enjoy with some home made custard, double cream or Greek yogurt.