Friday, August 2, 2019

Peach Bourbon Brown Butter Cake with Nielsen-Massey Vanillas

I was sent products from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas in order to facilitate the writing of this post. All opinions are my own.

It's odd that some people think of baking as a winter time activity. I mean, I get it; no one wants to unnecessarily warm up their house in the middle of a heat wave by having the oven on.  But it's a real shame, because there's so many flavors that are only available during the summer that work so well in baked goods, not to mention we can all use a little stress relief at all times of the year.

You've seen the title of this post, so you know what I'm going to say next: peaches. Baked goods with peaches are absolutely fantastic. In general, I find that stone fruits are some of my favorite things to bake with, because their flavors are so complex and vivid when the fruits are fresh, but even more so when cooked. And you can't exactly cook with fresh peaches in the dead of winter, so making a delicious summertime treat is really your only option if you don't want to use frozen or canned fruits.

Recently my friends at Nielsen-Massey Vanillas released two limited edition vanilla extracts and asked if I'd like to try one of them out. I opted for the Indonesian Vanilla because it was purported to have woody, smokey notes, and that it worked well in high heat/slow bake recipes. The woody/smokey notes immediately made me think of grilling peaches, which was just the thing to compliment the recipe I had in mind.

What did I have in mind you ask? Again... it's right there in the title of the post, so you pretty much know already. Basically, I wanted to try making a take on the Midwest favorite; Gooey Butter Cake. I'd never had this finger-licking treat before I moved to Chicago, but now I've been well educated on this bake sale classic, and it is well loved for a reason. The reason, of course, is BUTTER. But even classics can stand to be improved a little.

The only thing  that has always bothered me about gooey butter caked was that typically, a boxed yellow cake mix is used to make the crust. Why not make it from scratch? It's just as easy as using the box, and you can have more control over the quality of the ingredients. 

I also decided to use brown butter in all elements of this cake to give it a nuttier, more toasty flavor, that I thought would really compliment the Indonesian vanilla. This step by step guide from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas's Better Your Bake series perfectly demonstrates how to achieve brown butter without burning it, which is something I used to struggle with. 

Lastly, I decided that I wanted to top my cake with a richly flavored, slightly tart peach puree in order to off-set the sometimes cloying sweetness of the cake and filing. The addition of some good bourbon and roasted cinnamon is absolutely gilding the lily with even more deliciousness, pushing this cake into a more adult-centric flavor profile. If I wanted to sound pretentious, I might call it "elevated nostalgia."

Peach Bourbon Brown Butter Cake

For the Crust:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) of butter, melted and browned
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
3 cups cake flour
a pinch of salt

For the Filing: 
1 package of softened cream cheese (8 oz)
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) of butter, melted and browned
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
a pinch of salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) of butter, melted and browned
4 large peaches, pitted and cut into slices
1/2 cup good bourbon
1 teaspoon roasted cinnamon
a pinch of salt
sugar to taste
4 sheets of gelatin, bloomed in warm water

Pre-heat oven to 375. 

First, make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, vanilla, eggs, and brown butter. Mix until it forms a dough (you may need to kneed it with your hands. If it's too dry and not coming together, add a tiny bit of milk or water until it becomes a cohesive dough). Press the dough into a non stick or greased 9x13 pan, forming an even base and bringing the dough up half way on the sides of the pan.

Next, make the filling: In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese, butter, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt, and mix with a hand mixer until everything is combined and smooth. Pour the filling over the crust and smooth out the top. Bake for about an hour, or until the edges of the crust are just starting to brown and the filing is set but still slightly jiggly. Set aside to cool.

For the topping: Add the peaches to the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat and cook until the peaches have become extremely soft and rendered out most of the juice, about 15 minutes. Add in the bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and let cook an additional 10 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the peaches completely. Taste the mixture and add sugar as needed (it's best to keep the puree a little on the tart side). Put the mixture back on the heat and add the gelatin sheets, then stir until they have completely dissolved. Pour the puree mixture over the top of the cooled cake and make sure to smooth it out into an even layer. Refrigerate for a few hours or over night to set the topping, cut into squares, and serve.