I have these images in my head about how things in life should turn out before they happen. How a conversation with old friends will go, how a new city will make me feel, how I'll impress someone I haven't met yet, what my first day somewhere will be like. Inevitably, nothing ever turns out the way we picture it in our heads, and we're left with the determination that things will be different next time.
It was one of those single digit birthdays you don't quite remember with perfect clarity as an adult. My mom had bought me a cake, chocolate, decorated with white and yellow frosting, tucked nicely in a box for transporting home. I absolutely insisted on carrying it during the short walk from our car to our apartment, I had pictured myself gracefully gliding to the doorway as mom opened the door for me to step through like a princess. She insisted against it because she was afraid I would drop the cake. I won. I tripped. I dropped it on the hot August pavement. It was a devastating moment for my younger self as not only had I ruined my birthday cake, but I also got slapped in the face with a lesson in humility on the very day where it's okay to be unapologetically self centered and arrogant. Nothing like I pictured. We ended up eating the cake, mom scraped off the corner that got smushed to the ground, redistributed some of the frosting, and worked out some crafty angles for the photos. And as horrifying as it was at the time, it was character building—a learning experience. Never again would I be so careless with cake.
Before you ask, no, this isn't a birthday cake nor did I drop it (whew!). It's a cake just because it's hot, it's summer, and it's the perfect time for both ice cream and peaches. But as with all things, there was a vision, and there was what actually happened. The vision: four layers, two each of brown butter cake and peach ice cream, thin slices of fresh peach wedged between each layer in a spiral pattern, chunks of peach flecking the ice cream itself which was to be made without eggs (cause who has the time for that?), and a delicate cloud of hand beaten whipped cream sitting on top. What actually happened: I couldn't find a springform pan tall enough to accommodate 4 layers nicely, the peach ice cream was too icy due to both the exclusion of eggs and inclusion of fresh peach chunks, the thin slices of peach in between the layers turned into thin slices of basically ice, and the whipped cream never happened because the rest of the cake was so much work, I couldn't bring myself to add another step.
But we all learn from our mistakes, so the successor to that cake is this one. A simple brown butter cake with a layer of smooth peach ice cream on top, finished with the freshest stone fruits and berries of the season. It's different from the original imagination, but it tastes so so so much better.
Brown butter cake adapted and reduced from The Tough Cookie
To peel peaches, cut an x on the bottom and place them in boiling water for 30 seconds each, then immediately shock them in cold water. Once they have cooled, the skin should slide off easily. In the case where this method doesn't work (if the peach isn't ripe enough, or some peaches are just more difficult than others) you can use a paring knife.
This cake takes a long time to make, but it's mostly passive time. If you want to split the preparation over two days, I recommend making the ice cream base and baking the cake day 1 as both of those can just chill out in the fridge until you're ready to assemble. Then churning the ice cream, assembling the cake, and freezing it on day 2.
Yields one 9 inch ice cream cake.
For the ice cream:
4 large (about 1 lb 6 oz, or 625 grams) ripe yellow peaches
juice of 1/2 a lemon
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 & 1/4 cups (295 ml) heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
2 large egg yolks
For the cake:
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cups (180 grams) unbleached cake flour, sifted
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup (80 ml) whole milk, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 cups assorted stone fruits and berries for topping
The day before, place the bowl of your ice cream machine in the freezer.
Peel and roughly chop peaches. place in a medium bowl then add lemon juice and 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir to combine, then cover and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer peaches to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour peach purée into a medium mixing bowl or tupperware and set a fine mesh sieve over it.
Combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cream, and salt in a medium saucepan. Warm the mixture over medium low heat until 115 to 120 degrees F, hot enough for the sugar to melt but not scalding. Turn off the heat. Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl. While continuously whisking, slowly ladle a half cup of the warmed cream to the eggs. Scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the cream and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. Turn the heat back on to medium low and continue stirring, until the mixture thickens enough to lightly coat the spoon, this will happen right before it starts simmering (do not at any point let the mixture reach a simmer). Immediately take off heat and strain custard through the fine mesh sieve into the peach puree. Stir to combine and place in fridge until completely chilled, 4 hours at minimum.
While the ice cream base is chilling, make the cake. Place the butter in a stainless steel saucepan or skillet. Turn the heat to medium and melt the butter. While occasionally swirling the pan, continue cooking until it becomes foamy on top. Keep swirling until the solids at the bottom of the pan take on an amber color and the butter smells nutty, this will happen quickly so keep a watchful eye. Also it's better to err on the side of lighter rather than darker because it will continue to brown for a while after you kill the heat. Immediately turn off heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to fridge and chill until solid, about 1 hour. If you wish, you can make the brown butter a day in advance.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prep a springform pan by greasing it with butter and lining the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Remove the brown butter from the fridge and let soften at room temperature until malleable but still slightly cool. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sugar and continue beating for another 2 to 3 minutes until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time, and mix until just incorporated. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add half of the dry ingredients to the stand mixer and mix on low for about 20 seconds. Add the milk and vanilla and mix for another 20 seconds. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. If there are any streaks, finish mixing the batter by hand with a spatula. Transfer batter to the springform pan, level it with your spatula, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Once cool, remove the cake from the pan and level it if necessary. Then wrap it tightly in plastic and place in the fridge until chilled.
Churn the peach ice cream base in your ice cream machine. In the meantime, take your chilled cake and place it back in the bottom of your springform pan. Line the sides with parchment paper before placing the ring back on. Prep an additional 9 inch round of parchment paper. When the ice cream has reached soft serve consistency, turn off the machine and spread the ice cream over the cake in one even layer. Place the parchment paper round over the ice cream, pressing it to the surface. Immediately place in freezer and let it harden for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, remove the parchment paper and unmold the cake. Place any kind of stone fruits or berries your heart desires on top, slice, serve, and enjoy!