Arranged by twos as peaches are,
at intervals that all may live --
eight and a single one, on twigs that
grew the year before -- they look like
although not uncommonly
the opposite is seen --
nine peaches on a nectarine.
Fuzzed through slender crescent leaves
of green or blue or
both, in the Chinese style, the four
pairs' half-moon leaf-mosaic turns
out to the sun the sprinkled blush
of puce-American-Beauty pink
applied to bees-wax gray by the
of mercantile bookbinding.
Like the peach Yu, the red-
cheeked peach which cannot aid the dead,
but eaten in time prevents death,
peach-nut, Persian plum, Ispahan
secluded wall-grown nectarine,
as wild spontaneous fruit was
found in China first. But was it wild?
Prudent de Candolle would not say...
-- Marianne Moore, from "Nine Nectarines"
Browned-Butter Nectarine Cake
A plethora of nectarines, the desire for cake made with beurre noisette -- sometimes inspiration strikes early in the morning. This cake is not your light-crumbed fluffy high-riser; instead it's buttery, dense and slightly chewy with crisp edges -- the best elements of pastry and cake. The sprinkling of light brown sugar on top provides a crunchy, sugary crust surrounding the fruit. If you prefer a softer top, it can be omitted.
2 1/2 sticks (10 oz.) unsalted butter
3/4 cup light muscovado or light brown sugar
3/4 granulated sugar
2 tsp. best-quality vanilla paste or extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1- 2 tsp. salt (this depends on how salty a kick you like in your desserts)
1 pound nectarines (about 4), each fruit sliced into approximately 12 wedges, for a total of 48
2 Tbsp. light muscovado or light brown sugar for sprinkling on top
Browned Butter Glaze (optional)
1/2 stick (2 oz. unsalted butter)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 or 2 tbsp. milk, or enough to make a thick glaze
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter and line two 8 or 9 inch round layer pans with parchment, then butter the parchment as well.
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Melt the 2 1/2 sticks of butter over medium heat. Cook slowly until brown, stirring all the while. If the butter burns a little, strain it to get rid of the dark sediment -- the butter will still taste good. If it burns a lot, toss it out and begin again. Let the butter cool to room temperature -- it should begin to solidify. Beat it in a large bowl with both sugars until creamy. Add eggs, beating them in one at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Lightly stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Divide the mixture between the two pans, spreading it lightly and evenly over the bottom of the parchment lined tins. Arrange 24 nectarine slices in circles over the top of each cake; sprinkle them each with a tablespoon of light muscovado or light brown sugar. Bake for about 35 minutes; start testing them at 25 to make sure they're not browning too quickly. Remove when a toothpick or cake tester comes out more or less clean; cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan. They are delicious as is, or drizzled with the optional browned-butter glaze.
For the glaze, brown the smaller quantity of butter as you did for the cake, and strain if necessary. Stir in confectioners' sugar and milk to make a thick but pourable glaze. Add little pinches of salt until it tastes just right to you. Drizzle over the cooled cake if desired.
Yield: 2 cakes -- one for home and one for workmates or neighbors, or one for now and one for the freezer.