The peach is a member of the rose family, a cousin to apricots, cherries, plums, and almonds. Peaches are usually classified as clingstone (the fruit of the peach clings to the stone or pit), semifreestone (the fruit pulls away from the stone when the peach is fully ripened), and freestone, the most popular, where the fruit of the peach readily pulls away from the stone.
July and August are peak months for fresh peaches. The fruit is extremely perishable, so buy only the amount you intend to use or eat within a few days. Choose peaches that are firm to the touch, but whose flesh yields with gentle pressure. The fruits should be free of bruises with a warm, fragrant aroma.
Game plan: To remove the skins, blanch the peaches in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes and then immediately plunge the fruit into ice water to cease the cooking process. The skin should easily slip off. Do not let the peaches soak in the water.
The cake can be made several days ahead of time and refrigerated. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
2Place almonds and sugar in a food processor and pulse until they are finely ground. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the almond-sugar mixture, polenta, flour, and salt. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer. Beat with a paddle using a medium speed, until the butter is creamy and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and peach schnapps (if using). Turn the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients a little at a time.
3Cut the peach halves into 1/4-inch wedges. In the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, arrange the peaches in concentric circles, starting in the center of the pan, forming a spiral pattern. Spoon the batter over the peaches. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the sides from the pan and allow the cake to cool on a rack.
For the peach syrup:
1In a small stainless steel saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, wine, water, peach schnapps (if using), and vanilla bean and seeds. Set over low to medium heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow syrup to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or overnight.
2Remove the vanilla bean pieces from the syrup. Place syrup in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.
1Turn cake over onto a serving plate and remove the bottom of the pan. Cut into 6 to 8 wedges and serve with peach-vanilla syrup.
Variations: In place of the peaches, substitute other stone fruit such as plums, apricots, or substitute tree fruit such as apples, figs, or pears. Make sure the fruit is thinly sliced so that it will be cooked through when the cake is baked.
Beverage pairing: A slightly sweet dessert wine with peach overtones will put you over the top. We recommend Casta Diva, Alicante Muscat, Bodegas, Spain.
This recipe, while from a trusted source, may not have been tested by the CHOW food team.