High Country Baking: Put those Palisade peaches to good use
VAIL CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
My favorite mistake. That’s what these butter-rum peach shortcakes are. I’d planned to serve sweetened sliced peaches, in their own juices, but the peaches were rock-hard, tasteless, and couldn’t produce any juice if you beat them with a hammer. So, in a panic, I sauteed them in butter and brown sugar and, at the last minute, threw in some dark rum and a splash of lemon juice. Wow, were they good! I’ve continued to improve on this rescue effort and now serve the peaches with brown sugar shortcakes and vanilla ice cream. They’ve become an annual summer finale to dinner at our house and one of my most-requested fruit desserts.
The shortcakes are light and tender, with a distinct brown sugar and cinnamon flavor that proves to be a delightful match for the peaches in both texture and taste. Not only do they taste good, they also require only a few readily-available ingredients and come together in record time. What assures their success? Handling the dough gently and as little as possible; if you overwork it your shortcakes will be hard and tough. The shortcakes can be made earlier in the day you plan to serve them or frozen and defrosted.
The peaches and their sauce have only two requirements: Use fresh, soft brown sugar and make sure it dissolves completely in the melted butter.
Butter-rum peach shortcakes
(Adjusted for altitude.)
Brown sugar shortcakes
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
4 tablespoons fresh dark brown sugar
11⁄4 teaspoons baking powder
Generous 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup plus 3 to 4 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
Cinnamon, for sprinkling
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
5 small peaches
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons fresh dark-brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons dark rum
Vanilla ice cream
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, non-stick aluminum foil, or a silicone baking mat. Check your brown sugar to assure that it is fresh, soft, and lump-free.
Make the shortcakes: Combine the flour and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly. If you encounter any lumps of sugar, squeeze them between your fingers until they break up or remove them. Whisk in the baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream. Using a large fork, stir only until the dough clumps together and all of the dry ingredients are moistened. If necessary, add a teaspoon or so more cream to reach this consistency. Turn the dough out (I do this onto a sheet of waxed paper) and knead it gently with floured hands until it smooths out and the consistency is the same throughout. Pat it into a rectangle about one inch high and cut it into five equal-sized squares, cleaning the knife as needed. After cutting, it may be necessary to gently reshape the squares.
Place the shortcakes about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush the tops with a little cream and sprinkle them with cinnamon and granulated sugar. Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown and the shortcakes have risen and are cooked through. This takes from 12-16 minutes in my oven. Remove them to a cooling rack. Once cooled, the shortcakes can be wrapped well and frozen or stored for most of a day at cool room temperature.
Make the butter-rum peaches: Peel, pit and slice the peaches into half-inch slices. Set them aside. In a large skillet, over low-medium heat, begin melting the butter. When it is half melted, sprinkle the brown sugar over it and start to stir. Keep the heat low (the mixture can simmer but don’t let it boil), and stir until the two ingredients are fully blended and the sugar has totally dissolved. (Rub some between your fingers; it should be completely smooth.) Stir in two tablespoons of rum and one teaspoon of the lemon juice until combined. Taste, add more rum and/or lemon juice to your liking. Add the peach slices and gently stir/toss to coat completely. Cook only for a few minutes until the peaches are slightly softened; don’t let them start to disintegrate.
Serve: Use a serrated knife to gently saw each room-temperature shortcake in half, horizontally. Put the bottom halves on dessert plates, top each with the warm butter-rum peaches and some of the sauce, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and the shortcake top.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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