Grilled Peach-Amaretto Skillet Cakes
So in my last post we started talking about Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young's new book Campfire Cookery. Since I used to be fairly into backpacking, I warned you that these recipes require quite a bit more than what you're probably willing to carry on your back. But for more relaxed outdoor adventures, where a car (or a horse?! Maybe you have a pack horse?) does most of the heavy lifting, the book provides some wonderful recipes that can all be made over the open flame. (Lacking an open flame, you can also use a grill.)
But Huck and Young don't stop, or even start, with recipes. The book begins with suggestions for cookery essentials, which range from the 10-inch cast iron skillet with lid (this one is definitely an essential for many of the recipes), a grill grate (also a must-have) and tongs (always useful) to things that might be getting a little out there if you're traveling light. Things like a hand-cranked spice or coffee grinder, basting or pastry brushes and a hand-cranked ice cream maker. Yea, you'd definitely need at least one horse to haul all of that. But this kind of excess is also tongue in cheek, as for example, when they urge you not to forget your whittling knife or your best silverware (the pair insist that they would never subject their camping companions to eating with disposable utensils).
And if you either flunked out of the boyscouts or never got that far, Huck and Young provide instructions for constructing that ever-important fire, complete with a connoisseur's guide to different types of woods and three different fire designs. If you're worried that any disinclination to actually camp might render this book useless, the authors provide recipes for pantry staples like catsup, mustard, pickled ramps, chutneys and relishes and jams and marmalades. And, as I said, most everything can be made with a grill or even a grill pan. The book ends with a section dedicated to post-meal lounging, with a chart of the constellations, a handy guide to that deck of tarot cards you probably packed, a smattering of poems to be read aloud, some philosophical quandaries to ponder and, of course, songs to be sung.
So that's the book. And this is an example of how an entire meal really can be made outside. Even dessert. Even when that dessert is cake. These little cakes are mixed together and then cooked right in a cast iron skillet. The peach topping gets the same treatment before it's poured over the cakes for serving. Fresh, and summary and completely unexpected. This would be a great party trick for a backyard cookout if camping isn't in the cards.
Grilled Peach-Amaretto Skillet Cakes
Excerpted (with permission) from Campfire Cookery (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; June 2011) by Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young
Provides 4-8 portions
The pairing of sensuously sweet peach and delicately bitter almond is advocated by no less a lover of nature than Charles Darwin, who classified that fruit as an evolved form of the almond. Certainly, the two complement each other when served fresh from the fire with this pancake-like confection. Early- and late-season peaches alike benefit from a buttery caramel sauce - and what, one may inquire, would happen if a ripe height-of-season peach were to be grilled? Oh, sublime magnificence! Would one dare to eat such a peach?
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons (1/2 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons almond paste, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large farm fresh eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
4 large, ripe peaches, cut into eighths, stones removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar, or to taste
1 pinch kosher salt
Crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, for serving, optional
1. Prepare a medium-high heat fire, with flames occasionally licking the grill grate. Let it burn steadily for 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the skillet cake dough.
2. In a medium bowl, gently combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Use a fork or pastry cutter to mash in 4 tablespoons of the butter and all of the almond paste until crumbs the size of chickpeas form.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs, and amaretto. Use a spatula to make a well in the dry ingredients and scrape the sour cream mixture into it. Fold the ingredients with the spatula until a crumbly dough comes together. Knead the dough several times inside the bowl until it sticks together enough to be shaped. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into two spheres. Pat each sphere into a thickness of 1/2 to 1 inch and cut each into 4 equal wedges. Place the wedges on a plate to bake immediately or wrap them in foil and chill until one is ready to proceed. They will keep overnight.
4. Place a cast-iron skillet upon the grill grate. Drop in the remaining tablespoon butter and wait for it to melt. Whilst wearing one's gloves, pick up the skillet by its handle and swirl the melted butter to coat the pan. Return the skillet to the grill grate.
5. Place 4 wedges in the skillet and sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top. Allow them to cook for 5 to 10 minutes (this will take longer if the shortcakes are chilled). Use the fire-safe spatula to flip the skillet cakes and sprinkle on more Demerara sugar. Continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the skillet cakes to a plate and allow them to cool in the open air. Cook the remaining skillet cakes in the same fashion.
6. While the skillet cakes are cooling, grill the peach topping. Carefully place the peach slices, butter, brown sugar, and salt in the still-hot skillet and return it to the grate. Stir the mixture occasionally, until the butter melts. Keep the peach topping over the fire for 8 to 10 minutes, until the peaches are caramelized and slightly crispy. Transfer the skillet to a resting place to cool slightly.
7. Arrange the skillet cakes on dessert plates, providing one or two wedges to a serving as appetites dictate. Spoon on the piping-hot peach topping and add a dollop of crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream if desired.