There were peaches on the counter that would not be ignored. You could smell them before seeing them and they demanded something more grand than our morning oatmeal.
A cornmeal skillet cake has been on my to-make list for a while, and this low-maintenance cake that only bakes for about 20 minutes hit the spot. Peach slices float in browned butter at the bottom of the skillet, almost syrupy, before thick batter is spooned over the top. The crumb bakes up tender and the cake is heavy with the perfume of ripe seasonal fruit, herbs and the nuttiness of browned butter.
This is also an upside-down cake. In the moment before the flip, you hold your breath. Peaches could stick and cake could split. Cast iron is heavy and I thought we might break a plate. Then the cake fell out of the skillet and plopped right on to the plate. It's beautiful. Thank you, butter. And Danny.
The original recipe calls for lavender, but I didn't have any and wanted something a touch more savory. Lavender seemed a little precious for a cornmeal cake anyway. Our balcony herbs are starting to thrive again (apparently they grow when you water them) and I decided on thyme.
The recipe called for three peaches, but the two I had turned out to be plenty. Use fine cornmeal if you think you'd prefer the texture. I suspect some people might be partial to something a little softer, more familiar in a cake. But me, I love this kind of cake. Not too sweet at all. Simple but somewhat unexpected flavors, and yet familiar at the same time. It reminds me of the pineapple upside-down cakes my sister and I made for my abuelito (granddad). He never said no to cake, and he would've wanted two slices of this one.
This is a cake to celebrate summer.
Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be contacted at [email protected]