nectarine upside-down chiffon cake

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summer is almost over. what a summer it has been.

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here in california, the edges of summer linger in lazy, sunny afternoons. autumn is trying to sneak in with its crisp, cool air. it is there in the cloud cover that hangs softly over the mornings, easing us into the day and the rhythm of life starting back up again. in the shortened evenings that make us start to think about cozy stews and apple crumbles.

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there are still heavy red tomatoes and green papery-husked ears of corn at the market, but they sit side by side with rosy apples and bright orange pumpkins. if you're lucky, there's still stone fruit as well.

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this cake nicely bridges the end of summer, with the bright, sweet acid of the nectarines and the warmth of cinnamon streusel.

if summer is already a bit of a memory, apples would substitute nicely, maybe mixed together with a handful of tart cranberries.

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whipped cream in the batter makes the cake light. a hint of lemon keeps it from excessive sweetness with the marbled layer of cinnamon streusel inside and sticky, carameled slices of nectarine on top.

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this is a knock-winner of a cake. beautiful, but not fussy. perfect with a scoop of real whipped cream.

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you can find the recipe over at tuesdays with dorie, and at the double trouble kitchen and the little french bakery.

 

berries & cream cake

Happy Birthday Marilyn

it was a good weekend, full of family, sunshine and good food.

also, many photos in extreme variations of lighting and camera source. brace yourself.

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everything tastes better when eaten with your fingers and an endless supply of raspberry sauce.

Goat cheeses and cherries, fresh & preserved

goat cheeses and cherries . . . summer berry season is officially in full swing.

you know it's a good weekend when it includes more than one birthday cake.

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berries & cream was my contribution.

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chocolate on chocolate. purty.

my cake talked a good game. a light genoise, layered with macerated berries and whipped cream frosting.

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my execution? well, it looks pretty. and i learned an important lesson about how long you really, really, really need to whip your eggs for a genoise.

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the bottom layer did not raise. my generous father-in-law may have called it a tasty crust.

that's love, right there.

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but, also? fresh summer berries, macerated in a little booze, plus whipped cream frosting? made for a very special birthday?

that's also love.

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for the recipe – french strawberry cake - visit tuesdays with dorie. make extra whipped cream frosting and macerated berries. and whip your eggs!

twd: baking with julia: lemon bunny cake

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there are two food traditions in my life: grandma's stuffing at thanksgiving and a bunny cake at easter.

i'll be honest, my earliest memories of this cake are more related to stealing jelly beans from the bunny decorations than the actual cake.

and then lying my pants off about it. i'm pretty sure my mom didn't buy it.

but i'm also pretty sure she's forgiven her sweet-toothed baby girl, because she still sends me an easter basket every year full of goodies . . . and always a dark chocolate bunny.

you're never too old for a dark chocolate bunny.

also?

you're never too old to fall for the homespun charm of the bunny cake. coated in coconut "fur", nestled on a bed of that insanely irritating easter basket grass, sprinkled with easter egg jelly beans.

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the relatively tart flavor of the lemon pound cake and cream cheese frosting helped cut the sweetened coconut a little, but let's be real. this is a seriously sugary proposition.

in previous years, i've gone with a carrot cake for the bunny. it felt so meta . . . bunnies eat carrots, but we're eating the bunny, the bunny made out of carrots . . . why is this so entertaining to me? 

one year, i tried to go a little more healthy by buying an actual coconut, smashing it open with a hammer, and then decorating the bunny with toasted brown freshly peeled coconut curls. it was amazing and wrong all at the same time.

and this is the other thing about my easter bunny cake tradition . . . it's supremely adaptable. easter, for the non-christian christians, is a holiday without a lot of baggage or rules. it isn't the holiday you'll fly across the country to visit the family for. it's the holiday you celebrate with the family you've created wherever you are – or the family you borrow for a weekend or egg-toss-filled brunch.

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Lemon Easter Bunny Cake

You can find the recipe for the lemon loaf cake at Tuesdays with Dorie. I took the whole loaf recipe, but baked it in a 9 inch round cake pan instead. I also baked this Thursday night for serving on Sunday, and has happy to find the cake stayed moist and yummy wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge.

To assemble, take a 9 inch round cake. slice in half so you have two half circles. Stand one up, and coat the flat side with thick frosting. (I used Joy's recipe.) Stand up the other half circle and press the flat side into the frosting so you essentially have half a layer cake standing upright on your cake stand or platter. If you have time, give the outside a thin frosting crumb coat and then refrigerate for 20 minutes or so to let the frosting set before adding your final coat. This helps make the bunny truly white white, but since you're adding coconut, it isn't completely necessary. Then lightly press coconut all over the bunny to create the fur. I like to add a ball of coconut as a tail.  Eyes and nose are jelly beans, and I cut ears and whiskers out of paper. You'll need to cut little slits in the cake to insert the paper.

pistachio honey ice cream with dark chocolate

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this is the fancy-pants dessert i made to go with the lamb tagine from the other week.

the cake was pretty good.  it was an olive oil cake.

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i spent at least fifteen minutes in the olive oil section at the whole foods, reading the back of olive oil bottles. trying to decide how crazy i really am.  am i $20 for a 10 ounce bottle crazy?  turns out, i'm $15 for a 16.9 ounce bottle crazy.  which is still pretty crazy. but the bottle promised "fresh herbal aroma and delicate fruity flavor."

i needed herbal. i needed fruity. it needed to go with my candied cara cara orange slices.

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its a lot of cake for an ice cream post, of this i am aware. the cake just ended up being so much prettier than it was yummy.

the ice cream, though? out of this world.

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salted, roasted pistachios. not actually moroccan. persian. close enough?

does it count if i know persia is iran? only a slight cultural competence fail.

and does it really matter where they came from when they are so tasty when roasted and slightly salted, so fantastically lime green?

i ended up having to buy unshelled pistachios because that was what target stocks and i'd hit my shopping limit for the day, but maybe we can just say it was because unshelled nuts are supposed to be fresher. it took awhile to get them out of their pacman shells, standing at the kitchen counter, but it had its rewards. by the end, my fingers were wrinkled from the salt, like after a day a the beach, only mostly because i couldn't stop a downward spiral of nut-cracking, finger-licking, and hand-washing. the container yielded the half cup needed for the ice cream and garnish, but just barely. snacking may have also occurred.

let me now impress you with my mad photography skills.

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for this ice cream, the pistachios get pulverized. they add just a hint of texture to the ice cream. i subbed the sugar and corn syrup out of the ice cream for an orange blossom honey (see! fancy pants!) and not just because i forgot to buy corn syrup.

it worked out. the flavors were both nicely earthy. the honey added a deep sweetness. the pistachios were just a bit salty. kind of like a peanut butter honey sandwich.

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another great ice cream tip from jeni's cookbook was employed – melting chocolate to add as a mix-in. you pour the chocolate into the ice cream maker near the end, when the ice cream is pretty well set up, but slowly, ever so slowly. it freezes on contact into tiny little shards – what jeni calls freckles – of chocolate that melt on your tongue.

if you are less patient, and ready to be done getting melted chocolate all over your ice cream making station (aka the bathroom counter because the door can be closed and that thing is LOUD), pour the chocolate fast and it will clump into larger bits that are fun too. and still less likely to break a tooth than chopped, frozen chocolate.

more amazing photography. isn't that ice cream just . . . totally devoid of focus? and the cake, so sparkling clear?

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i really did think i was going to share the cake recipe. it was good – honest! light, with an interesting crumb from semolina flour. but it's drenched in orange cardamom syrup. turns out, i much prefer orange cardamom syrup in prosecco, not cake.

plus, then i tried the ice cream. wow. you should make this.

Pistachio Honey Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate

Adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

  • 1/2 cup shelled, roasted lightly salted pistachios
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 1/2 oz (or 3 tbsp) softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 – 3 oz dark chocolate, chopped

If your pistachios aren't roasted, toast them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes until fragrant and brown.  Let them cool for just a minute, then throw them in the food processor and pulse until they form a paste.

Mix 2 tbsp of milk with cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk cream cheese, pistachio paste, and salt in a medium bowl.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Bring the remaining milk, cream, sugar and honey to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture.  Bring back to a boil and stir until the mixture slightly thickens.

Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into cream cheese mixture until smooth. Pour into a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge in ice bath until chilled, about half an hour.

Pour ice cream base into ice cream maker and start churning.

Melt dark chocolate in the microwave (carefully, in small time segments, stirring between) or in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water (poor woman's double boiler).

When the ice cream looks nearly done – maybe 20 minutes in, slowly, slowly pour chocolate into the mixture. It should freeze as it hits the ice cream.

When ice cream is done, try not to eat it all. Pack into a storage container and freeze until firm. 

pumpkin apple crumble cake

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in a fresh air interview once, jon stewart talked about how the regimented structure of his show gives him and the other comedians the "freedom to improvise."

i think that totally applies to cooking.

the somm recently asked me what i thought my biggest strength is in the kitchen. my answer? i'm great at picking recipes. i love just scrolling through epicurious, blogs or other recipe websites, seeing what is out there, reading reviews, and learning what worked or didn't for other home cooks. i especially love good food blogs, like pastry studio, that offer really explicit tips on what did and didn't work. add all this up, and when i start a recipe, i feel informed. i feel empowered to improvise and make the recipe my own.

to the extent that there are rules about food blogging, posting recipes you know will work is one of them. professionals, especially if they write their own recipes, try said recipe at least a few times so they know it'll work. last thing you want is to post a dud. or to hurt someone.

honestly, i just don't have that kind of attention span. there is usually some new interesting recipe on the horizon i'm dying to try. it has to be a pretty special dish to get a second try.

same rule generally applies to international travel. this has led to a slight misunderstanding with the somm about how we totally should go back to brazil . . . just maybe after we've seen turkey. and argentina. a girl needs priorities.

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after all that build up, i have a recipe for you that is, in fact, a tried and true standby in my winter kitchen. this recipe works. and it is easily tweakable. best of all, this cake is GOOD. it has the best of all dessert worlds with a dense, moist pumpkin cake, topped with tender, cinnamony apples, topped with spicy, crunchy streusel.

cake meets pie meets crumble meets heaven.

with none of the cherpumple nonsense.

i mean, check out those layers.

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here are my tips for this cake. use a good sturdy apple, like a granny smith or a honey crisp. you don't want to ruin it with soggy apples. which also means that you don't want to saute the apples too long – they'll continue to cook in the oven. you really just want to get a little carmelization from the sugar.

also, use a springform pan, it'll make it so much easier to get a pretty looking slice.

serve warm or room temperature. a scoop of vanilla ice cream is a nice addition, but not necessary.

also, this is GREAT for breakfast. i mean, it has two types of fruit. and oatmeal. done.

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Pumpkin Apple Streusel Cake

Adapted from Bon Apetit

Apples

  • 3 tbs butter
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 large Granny Smith or Honeycrisp apples, peeled and chopped (Honeycrisps tend to run large, but more apple won't hurt you here)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Melt butter and brown sugar in a large skillet, add apples and cinnamon.  Saute for about 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool a little.

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature and cut in pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted if you like
  • 1/3 or more cup chopped candied ginger
  • 1/2 cup oats

Preheat oven to 350, spray a 9 inch springform cake pan with baking or cooking spray.

Beat together flour, brown sugar, butter and salt until it looks like coarse meal. Set aside 2/3 cup as streusel base. Add walnuts, candied ginger and oats and stir. I tend to be fast and loose with my streusel, so if you want more oats, be my guest.

In a small bowl, combine pumpkin, sour cream, remaining sugar, spices and baking soda. Feel free to mix up the spices! Cardamom would be nice! Add to flour mixture, beating just until smooth.  Add eggs and combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Top with apple mixture. Top with streusel.

Bake about an hour or until a toothpick (a long one!) or knife comes out clean.  Let cool before removing springform.

Serve warm or room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

italian prune plum cake

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we are back to the farmer's market this week.  i was seduced by a plum.  it's hardly my fault. 

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there are lots of pretty plums in the world.  the typical red Satsuma plums.  the little yellow and green plums. 

but the plums that got me were these.  italian prune plums.  so dark purple they are almost blue with a lovely ashy skin.  according to the internets, they aren't so good for eating out of hand, but better for baking.  especially on a stormy summer afternoon.  sold!

manchego liked them too.  or maybe it was the squirrel stealing our cherry tomatoes outside the window.

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just kidding.  the porch plants are so weak this year, the squirrel has given up on us.  i've given up on us.  on the plus side, since i've stopped watering the squash and tomatoes, i have SO MUCH MORE TIME.  war and peace kind of time.  plum cake kind of time.

sincere apologies to the dear friend who helped keep them alive during our vacation this year.  i started the summer with such hope.  there's always next year.

anyway, here are our ingredients.  it's a simple cake.  

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there are a lot of plum recipes out there.  tarts.  rustic crostatas and galettescrepes.  treats involving almond flour, pastry cream, spring-form pans.  sorbets for those uninclined to turn on the oven.  if you are feeling ambitious, i encourage you to try any of those yummy looking recipes.

me, i've been on a lazy streak lately. 

i googled until i found something super easy.  yet, something classic.  something blessed by not just the new york times and the spendid table, but also by an anonymous chowhound commenter

let's get started.  halve those plums.

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so pretty, the pale green center with the dusty purple skin.

i'll be honest – the pits were a little bit of a b*!@& to pry out of the plums.  we had words. 

once you've liberated your plum halves, let them hang out with the lemon juice and cinnamon.  then nestle them in the batter.  the batter is thick and sticky.

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the plums cook down and get jammy.  they stay a little tart, which is a nice foil against the cake, which is sweet but not too sweet.  not as sweet as the amount of sugar would lead you to believe.  and the cake has a nice light crumb.

the edges of the cake are a lovely chewy crust – and with a slightly gooey center, it's kind of like a really good brownie.  without the chocolate.  win some, lose some.

i slightly undercooked the cake.  don't be like me.  gooey is good – but the middle of my cake was inedible.  don't tell the cake police.  just bake your cake until it's done!

but the edges. 

crusty, chewy, just the right amount of gooey.

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see?  it's even like the cake is smiling.

Italian Prune Plum Cake

Basically as seen in: The New York Times and the Spendid Table, but also by an Anonymous Chowhound Commenter

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 lemon, zest & juice
  • 7 Italian (prune or purple) plums
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Halve and pit the plums.  Toss with 2 tablespoons of sugar, cinnamon and juice of one lemon.  Let the plums soak up the goodness.

Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar.  Let it get good and fluffy.  Add flour and baking power and mix until just combined.  Add eggs, salt and lemon zest, and mix again until just combined.  Light touch! 

Scoop into a greased baking dish.  I used a 12x9ish baking pan.  Nestle in your plums, skin side down.  Don't be shy with that cinnamon.

Bake for about an hour or until the middle isn't gooey.  Let it get good and golden brown.  Cool, slice and serve with a little powdered sugar!

peach brown sugar cake

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the theme of this post is: don't be like me.  don't forget to bring your butter and cream cheese to room temperature.  don't forget to add the peaches.  and, for all that is holy, don't forget to add the flour.  we are not inventing flourless peach cake around here.  grody.

that said, all of those things happened to me when i made this cake.  an audience of distracting girlfriends discussing vampire novels and work drama and some cocktails featuring passion fruit juice, limoncello and blackberries may have been to blame. 

or i'm just a ditz.

in any event.  the cake turned out just fine.  there are few problems you can't solve.  let's start with ice cold butter that miraculously needs to become room temp butter so you can cream it properly! 

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yep, that's what you do.  chop it up.  let it hang out in your kitchen while you have a cocktail and make dinner.  know what goes great with zucchini soup?  grilled cheese. nom nom.

now you're ready to cream.  here's the thing about creaming butter and sugar. you aren't just combining ingredients, or it would be called mixing.  what you're really trying to do is to aerate your batter – fill it up with little air bubbles that your leavener (baking soda and/or baking powder) will make bigger.  That is what will create a light fluffy yummy cake. 

letting your butter come to room temp is like a pre-dinner cocktail.  it just makes dinner better.  it creates better air bubbles.  and room temp butter just gives a little when you press it.  it isn't half melted cause you nuked it for a few seconds too long.  not that i would judge, cause i almost forgot the flour.  and the peaches.  good lord.

ok, now our room temperature butter is getting to know the white and brown sugar.  i used dark brown sugar, which gave the cake (and later the frosting) a lovely flavor but a relatively unappetizing uniformly brown color.  don't be like me – use dark for your cake and light for your frosting.

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again, i ask for your patience.  cream at low speed – not above medium on your electric mixer.  and you need to give the butter and sugar about 3-5 minutes.  if you've never creamed before, it's going to feel like forever.  pour yourself another cocktail.

eventually, the color will change.  check that out!  it got all light and creamy and fluffy!

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these are really atrocious photos.  light!  i need light!

moving on.  at this point, you add, in stages, all the other ingredients.  seriously.  ALL the other ingredients.  don't be like me.  i put some adorable orange polka dotted cupcake wrappers into my cupcake tin and filled them with batter.  then i turned and saw the pile of chopped peaches on my cutting board.  ever resourceful, i just stirred a spoonful of peaches into each cupcake.  victory!  into the oven!

then i noticed the bowl of sifted flour on the counter.  it wasn't pretty, but we eventually ended up here:

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not too shabby.

while the cake is baking, make your frosting.  this is really magical frosting.  a little bit of tang from the cream cheese, and true, caramely, brown sugar goodness.  but it needs some time to set up in the fridge – which can happen while your cake is cooling! 

check out those chunks of peach.  this is a really lovely moist cake due in part to the fruit and the sour cream.  the bits of peaches are small enough to infuse the cake with subtle peachiness and still give you bright pops of flavor.

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there are a couple of keys to a smooth layer cake.  smitten kitchen – also the authoress of this divine recipe – has a great post on it here.  today, i will demonstrate how to frost a crumb-free cake!

start with a base layer.  not super pretty.

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but stick the ake in the fridge to firm up the base frosting layer – i gave it about 20 minutes – and then your second layer will go on smoothly and without any crumbs.

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kids, this cake is BROWN.  but the raspberries sort of saved the day.  next time, i'd also add some raspberries as a filling.  they kick up the sweet-tart of the frosting and break up the sweet-sweet of the cake.

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Peach Brown Sugar Cake

From Smitten Kitchen.  See this recipe baked as intended here.

Makes 24 to 28 cupcakes – or one 9 inch layer cake

  • 3 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose, worked fine)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) buttermilk, sour cream or full-fat yogurt
  • 3 large peaches, peeled, cored, and chopped smallish

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 28 muffin cups with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and set aside. Cream the butter and sugars together, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition, and then the vanilla. Gently mix in the buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the peach chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for five minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  The cake layers were done in about 25 to 27 minutes.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and powdered sugar. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the sugar-cornstarch mixture and vanilla, beat until frosting is smooth and light. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator until it thickens back up a bit, about 30 minutes, then spread or dollop on cooled cupcakes.