Well that didn’t take long. A few sprightly jaunts through fluffy snow were fun, but as far as this season goes, I’m done. Might have lasted a bit longer had the sun poked its nose out once in a while through the layer of blech that’s taken up permanent residence in the PNW skies. Or if the sweet cottage I live in comfortably during three seasons didn’t suddenly become a walk-in refrigerator when the mercury dipped below 40. Fifty-two degree floors are swell for slowly cooling chocolate truffles. I am not a chocolate truffle.
I grew up in a place with four seasons and actually do like winter, at least for the first month or so. Snow capped mountains and fluffy trees are all quite beautiful, and the quiet that surrounds you during a snowy hike can be sublime. But in my corner of the map these days, the surrounding shades of gray number far more than 50, and elicit more whine than moan. I know this swath of mid-winter bleak isn’t unique to this region, but frankly, we seem to excel at it. Know why there’s so many microbreweries, wineries and cider houses in the Pacific Northwest? We’ve got to find someway to get from January to April. You think it’s coincidence that two of the three states with legalized weed are here? Enough said.
When the mid-winter crap-mood hits me hard, I seek out sunshine. Since I have neither feathers nor greenbacks to fly south for the winter, I try to find my sunshine culinarily. Often that takes the form of certain scurvy-preventing citrus mixed with vodka. But this time my muse is a cider maker, and my sunshine beams forth through a combination of peaches and hard cider. This Peach Hard Cider Sauce is pretty awesome stuff. The combo of peach and cider is truly a match made in heaven, the crisp green apple flavor of the cider bringing out the best in the peach. And since frozen peaches are perfect for this sauce, it’s an easy antidote for the sunlight-deprived days of winter.
I originally made the sauce to top the cake recipe at the end of this post (and it was amazing), but then I discovered something. The sauce makes a ridiculously good cider cocktail too. Think bellini, but with dry hard cider instead of prosecco . It’s also pretty great on toast, pancakes, pound cake, or ice cream.
Sure there’s still a lot of winter left, but that’s ok. Now I can make my own sunshine. 🙂
Peach Hard Cider Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
- 3 cups frozen peaches (about 1 lb.), chopped
- 3/4 cup hard cider (I used a national brand, green apple flavor, but if you are lucky enough to live in or near Salt Lake City, Ruby from Mountain West Hard Cider would be perfect for this!)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar (depending on your taste and sweetness of peaches)
- A pinch of salt
Add everything to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a slow boil and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn. At this point, if you are going to be making the Almond Polenta Cake below, remove 1/2 cup of the syrup you now have in the pot and set aside to use in the cake. Continue cooking another 5-10 minutes until the peaches are mostly broken down and the sauce is thick.
Let the sauce cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully puree in a blender in batches (or use a stick blender if you have one.) Keep in a jar in the refrigerator.
Hard Cider Bellini
Spoon 2 teaspoons of peach hard cider sauce into the bottom of a champagne flute or tall thin glass. Top with hard cider. Stir until combined.
Almond Polenta Cake with Peach Hard Cider Sauce
Makes one 9″ cake, or four 4″ little cakes
The inspiration for the cake is a version of Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Polenta Cake, changed a bit to accommodate what I had on hand and pair with peaches. The recipe calls for fine polenta, but I had medium on hand, and it gives the cake a great texture and a little crunch. However, the star of the show is definitely the cider syrup and sauce. And if you’re looking for a gluten-free recipe everyone will love, this is it.
For the cake:
- 1 ¾ sticks soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1 3/4 cups almond meal
- 1 cup fine polenta or cornmeal ** (I used medium grind)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (if you are gluten-free, double check that this is too)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp grated orange zest
- 1/4 cup hard cider
- 1/2 cup reserved peach cider syrup from above
- Peach hard cider sauce (see recipe above)
Line the base of pan with parchment paper and grease paper and sides lightly with butter. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped. Mix together the dry ingredients and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while. Finally, beat in the orange zest and cider and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared pan.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes for 9″ cake, or about 30 minutes for small cakes. Cake is done when a tester in center comes out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in pan.
Prick the top of the cake all over with a toothpick. Warm up the reserved peach syrup and pour over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of the pan. When the cake is completely cool, spread the peach hard cider sauce over the top.
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