Peach and Basil Buttermilk Kuchen (Cake)
Back in the summer between my junior and senior year I visited a handful of countries in Europe with our high school German Club. We spent a whirlwind week and a half in and out of two coach buses exploring cities, touring castles and cathedrals, admiring artistic masterpieces, and literally shouting from the mountaintops. The second half of our visit was an immersion of sorts, each student living with a different family in a village south of Frankfurt in southern Hesse, Germany.
On instruction from our teacher, talk with our host families and at school was to be a learning experience, and therefore strictly in German. Shy and not at all conversationally confident in this second language, my host father and older brother were gracious enough to bend the rules and intersperse a good bit of English into our interactions. My host mother, on the other hand, was either as timid as me, valued her silence, or couldn’t speak much English, as we seldom spoke more than a few sentences at a time. Still, she headlines my fondest memories under their roof.
Every morning I would help her prepare the lunches she sent my “brother” Ralf and me off to school with. Always the same: 1 or 2 small ripe nectarines, and a simple sandwich on toasted wheat bread with thin slices of a pale gold cheese, giant homegrown basil leaves, no condiments. I couldn’t have tore into the identical contents of those brown paper bags any more excitedly. No doubt it had a lot to do with that I’m in Germany thing, but there was something special about this combination, the tastes and aromas heightened from being kept in my warm backpack until break.
To this day the pairing of basil with nectarine, any stone fruit, is totally my jam, and one I riff on frequently during the summer. Living where we do, we have an easier time finding quality peaches (same went for former locales on the Gulf in FL and TX for whatever reason), so it’s the one I turn to most. Besides that, peaches are a little sweeter and more intensely flavored than their fuzz-free cousins, which makes them perfect for creating recipes with less sugar.
Baked together in this light, fluffy buttermilk kuchen (German for cake), fresh basil adds a bright, almost floral background note, and is a perfect complement to the ripe peaches. But if you’re not digging the idea of herbs in a cake, feel free to omit. Though, I do urge you to go on — it’s an unexpectedly marvelous combination!
If you missed the peaches, there’s always next year; in the meantime, try the recipe with slices of nectarines, plums, apricots, pears or persimmons, whole berries or pitted cherries — whatever is in season and catches your eye.
What’s in it for me?
Peaches are high in antioxidant vitamins A and C which are both important for skin and eye health, and a strong immune system, as well as several phenolic compounds, including anthocyanins, known for anti-inflammatory properties. One large peach is 88% water and only 68 calories with a surprising 2 g of protein, and 10% each of your fiber and potassium DVs. Interestingly, white-fleshed peaches have an antioxidant content up to 6 times higher than that of peaches with yellow flesh!
With more than 100 known varietals, fresh basil comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, aromas and flavors that enhance many dishes, but is most notable to Italian and southeast Asian cuisines. Basil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, as well as a high content of antioxidant rosmarinic acid, helps prevent cell damage from free radicals. Among the herbs, basil (and coriander/cilantro) contains the highest amounts of beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin (carotenoids), as well as lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lemon zest might seem like an afterthought, but it’s nutritional benefits are mighty. Studies have shown that regular moderate intake of soluble pectin fiber — found predominantly in the peel — promotes long-lasting fullness, can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and decreases risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes. The phytochemical called limonene is concentrated in citrus fruit, also richly in the peel, is currently being studied as anti-carcinogenic, specifically its potential to prevent cell growth and spread of human colon, breast cancer, and squamous cell skin cancers.
Read about the plentiful nutritional benefits of whole grain Atta flour in this previous post.
This cake is really quite simple, and is a celebration of the high season. It pulls together quickly and bakes in less than 30 minutes. We enjoy it as dessert after supper, but I could imagine it passing gracefully as a decadent breakfast or part of a summery brunch spread.
The peaches are ripe, the basil plants overfloweth, and if you ask me, any day is perfect for cake!
p.s. I solemnly swear to some day make this with ripe nectarines, and am confident it will be a magnificent smash.
Tell me… I heard the peach crop was blunted by some funky weather earlier this year — are you having difficulty finding them at your markets? To be on the safe side, I’m stocking up now!
- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry or Atta flour
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (see HGN Notes for substitutions)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk (see HGN Notes)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (or melted coconut oil)
- zest of 2 large lemons
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons (chiffonade) or chopped
- 2 small- to medium-sized ripe peaches, pitted and thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp Turbinado or other large grain sugar, optional
- Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle. Butter and flour a 10- or 11-inch springform/cake/tart tin. (You could also butter and line the base of the tin with a parchment round.) Set aside.
- On a large piece of wax paper or in a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through salt), and set aside. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk until frothy. Add the melted butter, zest and basil, and whisk again. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the dry mixture, and stir just until combined -- avoid mixing too much or the resulting cake my end up dense and tough (as opposed to light and fluffy).
- Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, using a rubber scraper or offset spatula to spread it out gently and evenly. Arrange the peach slices in a fan evenly around the top (or in any pattern you wish). No need to press down on the slices, as the cake will rise up around them as it bakes. If desired, sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar.
- Bake until the top is golden and firm, and a toothpick/skewer/cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Set the cake aside in the tin to cool for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack (peach side up) and cool to warm, another 10 to 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Keeps refrigerated in a sealed container or covered with plastic wrap up to 4 days; or frozen, in a zipper-top bag, slices tightly wrapped in plastic, up to 1 month.
To avoid using white granulated sugar, there are a few options:
+ Replace the 1/2 cup sugar with 6 Tbsp pure maple syrup.
+ Do a 1:1 swap for Turbinado sugar, fine-grain brown sugar, OR maple sugar.
+ To substitute pure honey, you can also do a 1:1 swap, but will need to take a few additional steps -- reduce the amount of buttermilk by 1/4 cup (i.e., use only 3/4 cup) + add 1/2 tsp baking soda + reduce the oven temperature by 25° F (i.e., bake at 375° F instead of 400°). Baking time will likely be extended a bit, but still begin checking for doneness after 20 minutes.
+ Swap peaches for other stone fruits like plums, nectarines, apricots, or cherries, or try apple slices, berries, pears – whatever is in season!
+ Not digging the basil? Eliminate it altogether, OR try 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh mint instead.
+ Replace the eggs with flax or chia eggs: Combine 1 Tbsp chia seeds OR 1 Tbsp flax seeds with 3 Tbsp water in a small bowl. Set aside 10 minutes to allow the mixture to gel.
+ Use mild flavored olive oil OR melted coconut oil in lieu of butter. Substitute 1:1.
+ Make it gluten-free with a medium-weight GF flour instead of the wheat-based flour, such as sorghum, brown rice or oat flour.
Recipe adapted from 101 Cookbooks.
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