I cook a lot. Every so often I blog about it.
I had a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook well before I ever came to Pennsylvania — one of those skinny paperback things they sell at tourist stops.
A woman who worked for me during my brief attempt at bosshood in Massachusetts gave it to me after she found out I liked to bake.
She’d grown up in Harrisburg and had a fondness for shoo-fly pies. So she gave me the cookbook and commissioned me to make some. From what I understand, they turned out quite well.
It was the least I could do for anyone who put up with me as a supervisor.
There’s not that much in the cookbook I’ve ever really wanted to make. Most of it is pretty bland and heavy-looking. (Anyone need a recipe for Gaenseklein — fricasseed goose? It’s the only recipe I’ve ever seen that calls for goose broth.)
But I’ve been eyeing one recipe for a while. And while I was buying dinner fixings tonight, I decided the end of summer would be a fine time to give it a shot.
I have no idea whether they actually make Lebanon County peach cake in Lebanon County. To my knowledge, I have only ever passed through the county once, and have never personally evaluated the native cake preferences.
Peach cake sounded like a nice treat, anyway, authentic or not. And the recipe is simple enough — a couple common dry ingredients, a couple common wet ones, and a couple halved, peeled peaches.
Peeling is usually one of my least favorite things to do in a kitchen. Peach fuzz seems to come off pretty easily, thankfully. And before long I was readying the whole assembly for the oven.
The cake itself, which puffs up in baking to semi-surround the peach pieces, is kind of bland.
The most important step in the recipe is to top it off before baking by sprinkling it with a sugar-cinnamon mixture, which rescues the whole thing. (Yes, warm fresh baked peaches are nice, but they can’t carry a flavorless cake by themselves.)
The second-most important step isn’t in the recipe; I added it on a whim in the supermarket. Buy some vanilla ice cream to serve with your warm peach cake. An obvious step — most desserts taste better with vanilla ice cream — but it seems to do this recipe a particular favor.
In fact, a jolt of vanilla would probably help the cake itself. Maybe next time I make it I’ll try that.
And I do plan to make it again. It may be humble, verging on bland, but Lebanon County peach cake disappeared from the family plates with notable speed.
It might have been the way the sweetness of the vanilla played off the sweetness of the peaches. It might have been the touch of cinnamon. It might have been the interplay of warm vs. cold.
Or it could just have been the pleasure of a simple homemade dessert that captured some the sweetness of summer, just as the darkness starts to come earlier every night.