Peach Melba Cake with Raspberry Cream

Whipped Cream. Fruit. Flowers. Booze. All makings of one crazy sexy hip hop video. And one very lovely birthday cake for an old friend who breezed through town in recent days. My girl Heather and I go all the way back to high school. We've seen each other through unrequited crushes and bad highlights and an inexplicable addiction to ill-fitting flannel (hey, it was 1995, okay?). She's lived in Atlanta for more than a decade now, and though we haven't lived in the same city since our high school graduation, we have one of those friendships that picks right back up where we last left off in the time it takes to give a great big, girly-squealing hug. It was so fabulously fun to have her over for dinner a couple weeks ago, and after a feast of a Greek salad/panzanella hybrid and lemon-roasted pork, we celebrated her just-days-away birthday with a frothy confection of a cake, fit for my favorite Georgia Peach.

This cake recipe instantly grabbed my attention because it contains absolutely no butter. And no oil, either. Who-the-what-now? No, seriously! Whipped cream is the foundation of the cake (and the filling, and the frosting). Genius! I had to try it, simply on the basis that the concept pretty much blew my mind.

After whipping a healthy amount of heavy cream to soft peaks, you beat in some sugar, just like you would cream butter and sugar together in so many other cake recipes. Then the eggs are beaten in, followed by the dry ingredients, sifted over and very gently folded into the batter, and just a touch of buttermilk.

When baked, the exterior of the finished cake looks a whole lot like your standard butter cake, but the crumb is quite a bit coarser, uneven and more open. The texture is also considerably drier than that of a butter cake. It sounds less than delicious, I realize. But! There is meaning behind this. The open structure and slightly parched nature allows for plenty of spiked peach syrup to soak into the layers.

As is the norm around the Piece of Cake kitchen lately when making layer cakes, I opted to bake my cake layers and make the fruit purees for the frosting and filling the night before, and then assemble everything the next day. But if you've got a chunk of time to work on this cake, it's easy to efficiently zip through the steps--make the peach mousse filling while the cake is baking and cooling, then make the raspberry cream frosting while filled and layered cake is chilling and setting up. And although there's still some lovely fresh peaches and raspberries to be found in the markets, I gladly accepted this recipe's time-saving suggestion of using frozen specimens.

Not only do you not have to wash, peel and slice the fruit, you just can't beat the consistently bright flavor and brilliant color of frozen fruits. They make for the most stunningly pretty purees and finished frosting and filling for this cake. I challenge you to not eat half the batch of both elements while making them. They are the ultimate in ambrosial spoonability.

And speaking of the frosting and filling, the flavors are out of this world. Obviously it's really hard to miss the mark with the combination of fruit and whipped cream, but what really makes them pop here is the addition of a few extra flavorings--peach schnapps for the peach mousse and the very interesting addition of rose water for the raspberry cream. A dash of alcohol is the ultimate flavor booster in cooking and baking, and, as alcohol is wont to do, it always livens up the party when fruit is involved in a recipe.

The rose water in the raspberry cream...well, there's really no other way to describe it except to say that it makes the finished cream taste so, so beautiful. You don't feel like you're eating your Grandmother's perfume or anything--in fact, you won't even sense the essence of rose unless you really try and taste for it--but it creates a roundness to what would otherwise be a sort of sharp, tangy raspberry note. In other words, the raspberry cream tastes as soft and as pink as it appears, and I love, love, love that about this cake.

Although it's billowy and dreamy when it's first made, the raspberry cream isn't nearly as stable as a trusty buttercream--it makes for a very thin layer on the cake and can't really be fancifully swirled and reworked a whole lot on the surface of the cake. Just keep in mind that you'll have to work quickly and have a set design in mind when you start dolloping on the frosting and all will be beautiful. I mean, c'mon! You really can't go wrong--look at this color! Who needs Red No. 5?

And so I repeat: whipped cream, fruit, flowers, booze. That's really all you need to know.

Peach Melba Cake with Raspberry Cream Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake

The following recipe has the proportions of the original. I halved this recipe to scale it down to a two layer 6-inch cake, which is the perfect amount for serving a smaller group (say four to six people). I then split the layers in half crosswise to make a cake with four layers of cake and three layers of filling. The cakes can be baked the day before assembly, cooled completely, wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated. The peach syrup and fruit purees for the frosting and filling can also be made the day before; when it's time for assembly, quickly whip up the two batches of cream for the peach mousse and raspberry cream, fold them into the purees and you're all set.

To find the rosewater that gives the raspberry cream it's other-worldly flavor, look in the liquor section of larger supermarkets or specialty grocers.

You'll notice there's extra puree in the recipe than what is actually needed to make the frosting and filling. The intention is to use it for garnish. I didn't bother with garnish and instead stirred mine into yogurt the next day.

For the cake:

1 3/4 cups cake flour 3 3/4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup heavy cream 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 1 1/4 cups sugar 2 whole eggs 2 egg yolks 3 tablespoons buttermilk

For the peach syrup:

1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup peach schnapps or other peach liqueur

For the peach mousse filling:

1 pound peaches, thawed frozen with juices or peeled and pitted fresh 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1/4 cup water 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder 2 tablespoons peach schnapps or other peach liqueur 1 cup heavy cream

For the raspberry cream:

12 ounces unsweetened frozen raspberries, thawed with juices 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon rosewater

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment circles and grease the parchment too (butter or cooking spray works fine).

Start by making the cake. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Put the dry ingredients back into the sifter and set aside.

Whip the cream with the vanilla to soft peaks on high speed. Lower the speed to low and gradually beat in the sugar--do not whip until stiff. Beat in the eggs and egg yolks and continue whipping until soft peaks form again.

Sift about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in by hand with a spatula until well-blended. Repeat twice more. Fold in the buttermilk. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert them onto the cooling racks and peel off the parchment. Cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, first make the peach syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the syrup to about 1/2 a cup. Remove from the heat and stir in the peach liqueur. Set aside to cool.

Next, make the peach mousse filling. Combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium non-reactive saucepan over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, cooking until the peaches are soft. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (take care as hot liquids like to explode out of blenders). Measure out 1 cup of puree and set aside for garnish. Place the remaining puree in a large bowl.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 tablespoons of liqueuer and let soften for five minutes, then microwave it on high for 10 to 15 seconds, stirring well to make sure it's completely dissolved. Stir the gelatin into the peach puree in the large bowl.

In a large chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream for the peach filling until stiff. Fold the cream into the peach puree.

Begin assembling the cake. Place on layer upside down on a cake plate covered with strips of parchment to keep the platter clean. Soak with 1/4 cup of the peach syrup, and spread with half the peach mousse filling. Repeat with the second layer, 1/4 cup more syrup and the second half of the filling. Place the final layer on top and the rest of the peach syrup. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate the cake so it can set, about 1 hour.

While the cake is chilling, make the raspberry cream. Place the raspberries and their juices in a medium saucepan over medium low heat, mashing them with a fork until they've given up all their juices, about 15 minutes. Let the fruit cool slightly, then puree it in a food processor or blender. Run the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. Remove 2/3 cup of the puree to another bowl, and reserve for garnish (sweeten to taste with additional sugar before serving). Into the remaining 1/3 cup, stir in the sugar and rosewater until the sugar dissolves.

In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream until stiff. Fold the raspberry-rose puree into the whipped cream.

When the filled cake has set, frost with the raspberry cream. Refrigerate cake uncovered for two hours before serving (and up to 8 hours for best results--this cake doesn't keep well). Serve with the garnish, if desired.

CakeShauna Sever