My favorite mistake — that’s what these butter-rum peach shortcakes are. I’d planned to serve sweetened sliced peaches, in their own juices, but the peaches were rock-hard, tasteless and couldn’t produce any juice if you beat them with a hammer. So in a panic, I sauteed them in butter and brown sugar and, at the last minute, threw in some dark rum and a splash of lemon juice. Wow, were they good! I’ve continued to improve on this rescue effort and now serve the peaches with brown sugar shortcakes and vanilla ice cream. They’ve become an annual summer finale to dinner at our house and one of my most-requested fruit desserts.
The shortcakes are light and tender, with a distinct brown sugar and cinnamon flavor that proves to be a delightful match for the peaches in both texture and taste. Not only do they taste good, but they also require only a few readily available ingredients and come together in record time. What assures their success? Handling the dough gently and as little as possible; if you overwork it, your shortcakes will be hard and tough. The shortcakes can be made earlier in the day if you plan to serve them or frozen for a month and defrosted.
The peaches and their sauce have only two requirements: Use fresh, soft brown sugar and make sure it dissolves completely in the melted butter.
Butter-rum peach shortcakes
Adjusted for altitude. Yields five brown sugar shortcakes.
- 1 cup bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
- 4 tablespoons fresh, dark brown sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup plus 3-4 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
- Cinnamon, for sprinkling
- Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
- 5 small peaches
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons fresh dark brown sugar
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons dark rum
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Make the shortcakes: Combine the flour and brown sugar in a mixing bowl, and whisk thoroughly. If you encounter any lumps of sugar, squeeze them between your fingers until they break up or remove them. Whisk in the baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream. Using a large fork, stir only until the dough clumps together and all the dry ingredients are moistened. If necessary, add a teaspoon or so of more cream to reach this consistency. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper and knead it gently with floured hands until it smooths and the texture is the same throughout. Pat it into a rectangle about one inch high, and cut it into five equal-sized squares, cleaning the knife as needed. After cutting, it may be necessary to gently reshape the squares.
Place the shortcakes about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush the tops with a little cream and sprinkle them with cinnamon and granulated sugar. Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown and the shortcakes have risen and are cooked through, 12 to 16 minutes. Remove them to a cooling rack. Once cooled, the shortcakes can be wrapped well and frozen or stored for most of a day at cool room temperature.
Make the butter-rum peaches: Peel, pit and slice the peaches into half-inch slices. Set them aside. In a large skillet, over low-medium heat, begin melting the butter. When it is half-melted, sprinkle the brown sugar over it and start to stir. Keep the heat low (the mixture can simmer but don’t let it boil) and stir until the two ingredients are fully blended and the sugar has totally dissolved. Rub some between your fingers; it should be completely smooth. Stir in two tablespoons of rum and one teaspoon of the lemon juice until combined. Taste, add more rum and/or lemon juice to your liking. Add the peach slices and gently stir to coat completely. Cook only for a few minutes until the peaches are slightly softened; don’t let them start to disintegrate.
Serve: Use a serrated knife to gently saw each room-temperature shortcake in half, horizontally. Put the bottom halves on dessert plates, top each with the warm butter-rum peaches and some of the sauce, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the shortcake top.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.