I am informed by the latest issue of Urbanite (for Baltimore's Curious), that the peach cake is a Baltimore specialty. I've never seen a Baltimore specialty (other than Natty Bo) that didn't involve those crustaceans that are so deadly to me.
It seems that right now is the best time to make one of these cakes, which are basically glazed peach quarters on top of a sweet yeast dough. Why is now the best time for this cake? Because freestone peaches are the key to a great peach cake. By freestone peaches, I mean those peaches which are so ripe that the flesh around the stone in the center of the peach has pulled back, leaving it free and untethered in the center of the peach.
Having just come back from the Baltimore farmer's market, I happened to have a large basket full of peaches, many of which should be freestone, or at least very ripe. In the Urbanite article by Mary K. Zajac which you can read here, a recipe is given that originated from a Baltimore Gas and Electric 1984 book Treasured Recipes Honoring Maryland's 350th Anniversary. I have to say that watching my energy bill double over the last year has not made me particularly fond of BG&E, and some of the techniques described seemed a little generic, like the addition of apricot preserves as a glaze. Everyone uses apricot preserves as a glaze. It's not peculiar to Baltimore. And of the two pictures that accompany the article, the chopped peach cake from the BG&E recipe doesn't look nearly as appetizing as the one a smiling Sharon Hooper holds out covered in large, glorious quarter-peach hunks.
Ah, but in the article, Sharon Hooper of Hoehn's Bakery describes how they make peach cake.
...once it's rolled out, the dough is brushed with raspberry jam ("It adds color and keeps the peaches from sliding all over the place." Hooper explains.) and left to proof...
When the cake is removed from the oven, Hooper sprinkles it with more granulated sugar, and gives it a light wash of simple syrup to which a little orange pulp has been added. "And that's it." Hooper says with a grin. "There's nothing special about our peach cake."
Nothing special? Let's use the method Hooper describes. Raspberry, orange, and peach work very well together and it sounds to me like it'll make a very special dessert. I will rely on BG&E's recipe (as adapted and updated by Kerry Dunnington of the Urbanite) for the basic dough recipe, but the rest of our cake will be from Sharon Hooper's description.
Baltimore Peach Cake
1 3/4 cups white flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup hot water
1 egg, room temperature
4 tablespoons raspberry jam
4-6 peaches, peeled, pitted, and quartered
canola or cooking spray
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup room temperature water
I use a less fussy dough making method than the one in the Urbanite. Follow the link above if you want to use the original method.
First, grease or spray a 9" cake pan, sides and bottom.
Combine all the dry ingredients together in a mixer bowl (that's the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast). Start the mixer on low, and add the softened butter. Beat together for two minutes or so. Add the egg while the mixer is running. Slowly add the water.
You'll have a very sticky dough. You may want to use the oil spray on your hands so you can work the dough a little. Press the dough into the bottom of the prepped cake pan. You'll need to stretch it out a bit and pinch closed and holes. You'll end up with a very thin dough.
Spread the raspberry jam on top of the cake in an even layer. Arrange the peach quarters in the pan on top of the cake, pressing lightly on each to dent the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise in a warm place for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 25 minutes.
When 15 minutes or so have passed, cut your orange n half and juice it into a small saucepan. Scrape some of the pulp out of the orange and into the pot, leaving any membrane or white pith behind.
Turn the heat on under the juice to medium. Add the sugar and 1/2 cup water. Stir well to dissolve the sugar into the water and make a simple syrup. Cook over medium heat to reduce for seven minutes or so.
Remove the cake from the oven. Brush and spoon the syrup mixture over the top of the cake while it is hot. You don't have to use up all the syrup, but make sure the entire top of th ecake is well coated with the syrup.
Let the cake cool for at least 30-45 minutes before serving. It's also very good refrigerated.