I've been feasting on peaches, plums, and nectarines lately, enjoying them on their own but also keeping an eye out for a simple cake that will complement the stone fruit without overwhelming richness. Sweet and buttery in a restrained sort of way, Deborah Madison's yeasted sugar cake fits the bill perfectly. As a bonus, it reminds me of the Sara Lee coffeecake I loved as a child (which, in adult samplings, has never lived up to my childhood taste memory).
I think this cake is plain enough to be cut into cubes and included in a basket of bread and muffins, but with plenty fresh fruit it could be the centerpiece of a meal. If you make it a day in advance, warm it in the oven before serving.
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
Stir the yeast and 1 teaspon of the sugar into 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, remaining sugar, and salt. Add the yeast mixture, milk, and eggs and beat until smooth; I just used a wooden spoon. Add 4 tablespoons of the butter and beat vigorously until the batter is silky. Scrape down the sides, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Lightly butter a 9-inch cake pan. Stir down the dough, scrape it into the pan, and pat it into a disk of uniform thickness. If possible, soften the remaining two tablespoons butter even more in a microwave or by letting them sit atop a hot stove for a minute. Rub this softened butter all over the dough and then sprinkle with the brown sugar. (My butter was not soft enough to rub, so I pinched it into small lumps and dotted the dough with butter before sprinkling with sugar.) Leave the dough to rise 30 minutes more and preheat the oven to 400.
Bake the cake until well risen and the sugar has begun to melt and brown, about 25 minutes. The surface should be covered with cracks. (I was using an 8-inch cake pan and it was still a little underbaked at 30 minutes, despite a very brown and crackly top.) Let cool briefly. Unmold and serve warm. (Cake can also be split and reheated in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or so.)