Small, Good Things: Relaxing into the Season

Summer Fruit Cake

A small, soft cake of summer fruits

It would be disingenuous to deny that the last five months have put a different spin on traditional ideas about “summertime.” 

When we’ve been doing our damnedest to maintain an even keel while living on high existential alert, concepts such as “family vacation,” “picnics” and “summer camp” don’t generate the emotional warm-and-fuzzies.

Que sais-je? I even mistook Camus’ The Plague for a beach book. (Anyone for La Plage?) It seemed like a good idea at the time.

With “back-to-school” and “the fall season” and a “presidential election” looming in unstable and uncertain forms, the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” seem less lazy, moderately hazy and infinitely crazier.

If only we could cultivate that casual, pre-Labor Day spirit. Let’s take a cue from those masters of insouciance and dishabille and other words that describe the supernatural nonchalance they’re so good at, and by that I mean the French.

This recipe was inspired by American-in-Paris food writer David Lebovitz’s wrap-up of seasonal fruit recipes, including a moelleux aux fruits d’ete (“small soft cake of summer fruits”) that he adapted from French food writer François-Régis Gaudry.

Lebovitz’s take is elegant — plums and pluots (plum-apricot hybrid) arranged centrifugally in a springform pan on a batter redolent of sugar, eggs and almonds — whereas Gaudry’s recette for moelleux à l’abricot (apricots) as prepared (or performed)—in a 4-minute video on his Instagram page at bit.ly/gaudry-recipe is the embodiment of informality and sensual pleasure that only the French can muster.

If you’ve got your mise en place together, 4 minutes is not much of a stretch as far as prep time: the batter is mixed in a large bowl by hand and the prepared fruit — about 2 pounds! — folded in. The resulting batter is poured and roughly leveled into a parchment-lined pan and baked for about 45 minutes. The loose container makes for a comfortably relaxed presentation, serving and cleanup.

Lebovitz’s version increases the flour a bit, decreases the number of eggs and makes for a more traditional cake. In this translation of Gaudry’s formula, I maintained his eggier batter and the blend of almost equal measures of flour, almond flour and sugar is a bit looser. Depending on the type and ripeness of the fruit (which cooks down to an unctuous confit-like consistency), you may have to adjust the sugar and/or increase the baking time to firm up the cake. 

Lebovitz’s addition of vanilla — and an experiment with a splash of almond extract that I had on hand — magnified the frangipane notes of the almond flour. 

Truth be told, although we’re calling this a cake of summer fruits nearly anything available could be used, berries and cherries included. These are minor variations to play around with the next time you make it. Top the warm cake with a dollop of cream, Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream and I’m reasonably sure there will be a next time.

A Casual Cake of Summer Fruit

François-Régis Gaudry, Natalia Crozon, Raquel Caréna and David Lebovitz 

Serves about 8

  • 2 pounds pitted apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums or pluots, cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1¼ cup raw sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond flour (aka almond meal)
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder (Rumford, aluminum-free, preferred)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 5 ounces softened butter
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a combination of vanilla and almond extracts)
  • Parchment paper and butter and coarse sugar (like turbinado) to coat paper for the 10-inch casserole or deep baking pan

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a sheet of parchment paper large enough to completely line a 9-or-10-inch casserole or baking pan.

2. Mix the flour, almond flour, salt, sugar and baking soda in a large bowl. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla and/or almond extract. Add the softened butter and egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a large spoon or spatula to incorporate. Add the fruit and incorporate into the batter.

3. On a flat surface, butter the sheet parchment paper and push it down into the pan or casserole. (There should be a couple of inches overhang all-around.) Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of course sugar over the paper and shake it around to distribute. Pour in the cake batter into the pan/casserole and roughly even the top with your spoon or spatula. 

4. Sprinkle an additional tablespoon of turbinado sugar over the top. Bake 45 minutes on the center rack. Check the firmness of the center and bake for an additional 10 to 20 minutes as necessary. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. This is great served warm with a dollop of cream, yogurt or vanilla ice cream.


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