This wonderful cake with caramelized peaches was probably inspired by the famous French tarte Tatin, in which apples are cooked in caramel, covered with pastry before being baked, and then inverted so that the caramelized apples lie on top of the pastry.
Here, butter and sugar are combined and placed in the bottom of a pan, the peaches are arranged on top, and a light cake batter is then spooned over, a little like an American upside-down cake.
Peel the peaches: if they are ripe, cut an X on the blossom end of each and plunge them into boiling water, leaving them in the water for about 30 seconds. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer and place in a bowl of cold water. Starting from the X’s, pull the skin away from the peaches, using the point of a small paring knife. If the peaches resist or are underripe, peel them with a knife. Halve and pit each peach and cut each half into 4 or 5 wedges.
Melt the butter in a
Place the pan over low heat and begin to cook the peaches. At first the caramel will melt and combine with the juices coming from the peaches. After about 5 minutes, the peaches will be swimming in caramelized juices. Continue cooking until the juices reduce to a thick syrup, about 10 minutes. If the center remains watery when the juices have thickened at the edges of the pan, remove some of the excess juice from the center with a spoon, shaking the pan gently to mix the juices without disturbing the arrangement of the peaches. Remove from the heat and cool.
Beat the butter, sugar, and salt until soft and light, either by hand, with a hand mixer set at medium speed, or in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating smooth between each addition. Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the butter-and-egg mixture. Spoon the batter over the peaches, making sure to cover them with an even layer of the batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cake batter is baked through and the peach juices are thick and bubbling. Cool the torta in the pan for about 5 minutes.
To unmold the cake, invert a platter or cardboard disk on top of the pan and, grasping both the handle of the pan and the platter, with your hands well covered with kitchen towels (mitts are perfect for this), invert the torta onto the platter. Leave the pan in place, give it several sharp raps, and lift it off. Watch closely as the pan comes off in case any of the peach wedges stick to the pan, so that you can remove them from the pan and replace them on the torta.
Serve the torta warm. Store it loosely covered at room temperature. Since the cake batter is moist, the juices that seep into it will not make the torta excessively soggy, and leftovers will keep well for a day or two.
© 1990 Nick Malgieri. All rights reserved.