Editor's Note: The original version of this story was published on October 1, 2018, on the first edition of JWontheRoad.com as part of the "In the Kitchen" series.
Here's a surprising thing: I'm not really a dessert person.
Whoa! OK, OK, stop shouting! I love dessert. I really do. I just never think about it.
I don't think about it as an essential part of the meal — and even when I'm cooking for a large group, dessert is almost always the afterthought (except for one recent occasion, but that's another post).
Last month, I went to Georgia (it's kinda funny that two of my earliest posts on this site are going to be rooted in the same trip) to visit family, and ended up cooking a few dishes for them while I was there. When you're cooking for my family, though, dessert or a dessert-like activity, is very much expected.
It was a mild summer day in August; I could feel the days of "we'll throw something on the grill" fading into the embrace of winter's inevitable chill. So in homage to our favorite propane-fueled cooking implement, I knew I needed a grillable dessert.
Let them eat cake
Which lead to my next thought: What pastry/pie/cake is delicate enough to still feel like dessert, but is sturdy enough to withstand being handled on a hot grill? Also, what would look really appealing with grill marks?
I found my answer in pound cake. Yes, pound cake — the calorie-laden cake that very notably consists of ONE FULL POUND EACH of sugar, flour and butter. Pound cake is as good as it is bad for you. Most of all, though, thanks to the massive amount of flour, pound cake is hearty.
From a flavor standpoint, think about the sweetness that a full pound of sugar brings to the party. It's subtle at first, but if you really think about pound cake, sugar is the most dominant flavor, and when you add high heat to sugar, beautiful things happen.
So pound cake on the grill for just a few minutes to get those standout grill marks against the light yellow interior of the cake. The char elevates the moderately flat pound cake from a one-note sugar fest to a complex, toasty and (surprisingly) aromatic delight.
Adding the fruit
But the dessert needs more. Perhaps a local flair. What's Georgia known for? Peaches.
I drove over to the closest grocery store, which happened to be a Publix (named Food & Wine's No. 5 best grocery store in the U.S.) and grabbed pound cake (pre-made, I was under a time crunch!) and peaches.
It's no secret that peaches are GREAT on the grill. Visually, they're stunning in the same way the grill marks are on the pound cake. Flavor-wise, grilling peaches tastes kind of like the best peach cobbler you never made. The classic peach flavor remains, but gets smokier. The juiciness thickens, the sugar caramelizes, the flesh darkens. Oh man.
Now we're really getting somewhere. Two grilled items. Complex and delightful flavors. Let's finish strong. Whipped cream.
A "new" kind of whipped cream
Can we talk for a second about whipped cream? If you're not buying it from a compressed air canister, it's often kinda disappointing. For a while, I would whip heavy cream, add sugar and vanilla extract and call it a masterpiece.
It was good, sure, but was it really better than the pressurized cans of sweet, creamy deliciousness past? Not really.
For the first time ever, right here on this blog, I'm announcing that I am going coconut-milk-whipped-cream-first.
Here's how it works: Buy a few cans of full-fat coconut milk from the grocery store (any brand will do, just make sure it's not a reduced fat variety). chill the can in the refrigerator for at least two or three hours, but preferably overnight, then crack the can and scoop out the cream on the top with a spoon into a bowl.
When you're doing this, try to avoid getting the liquidy coconut milk/water from the bottom in the bowl. You're looking for pretty solid cream here. When you've got a decent amount (it could take 2 cans), save the liquid coconut milk for another use (or chill it again and see if more cream rises to the top!). Then, with a whisk (if you're a savage) or with an electric hand mixer, beat the cream until it thickens and gets more airy.
Coconut whipped cream tastes better with nothing added to it than heavy cream ever has or will. I added a small dash of vanilla extract while whipping to really bring it home, though. Just like with standard whipped cream, you can totally add sugar — I Just don't think this needs it.
This whipped cream works perfectly on the top of the grilled pound cake and grilled peach, but it has other uses as well — it's a great base for a dairy-free ice cream that actually stands up to freezing in a home freezer (also another post).
Plate the dish pound cake first, then peach. You can line up the grill marks if you're going for parallel or criss-cross them if you really want to activate my neuroses. Scoop some of the coconut whipped cream into the cavern where the peach pit once was and dust lightly with cinnamon or your warming spice of choice (turmeric, cardamom, ginger or even black pepper could all be pretty good depending on your tastes).
Oh hey, one last thing before I give you the recipe — I wrote this post through the narrative of coming up with this dish for a family dinner. For that, I bought a pre-made sour cream pound cake. It served the purpose at the time, but I always prefer homemade when you have time (the photos from this post are mainly from me tweaking this and recreating the dish for the purpose of this blog).
The recipe of pound cake is obviously quite simple (a pound of everything plus some eggs), but I really like Alton Brown's. Alton's also got a slightly-lower calorie buttermilk version, which I'd imagine is great, but haven't tried yet.
One note on Alton's recipe — he recommends bread pans or a bundt pan. I actually tried these in normal 9inch pie pans (and I think one cake pan, but who knows the difference) and really liked the thickness it provided for this recipe. Since you're eating the pound cake topped with fruit, we're definitely looking for something a little on the thinner side, but still thick enough that it can stand up to the grill.
Grilled Peach Pound Cake
Time: 10 minutes to prep, 5 minutes to cook, 1-2 minutes to assemble
- 1 pound cake (made in a 9-inch pie/cake pan, sliced in 8 even triangular pieces)
- 2 peaches
- 1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz), chilled for at least 3 hours, if not overnight
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon, toasted and grated fresh on a microplane if possible
- Cut the peaches in half, like you would an avocado and remove the pit. Scrape out any grittiness that may remain from the pit. Slice the peaches into triangles, two from each half of the peach. Base the triangle cuts on the sizes of the pound cake you intend to plate them with.
- Remove your coconut milk from the refrigerator. Open it up, and skim the cream off the top of the water below and into a mixing bowl. Be delicate and don't scoop deep. Skim until you begin to see dark water below. Remove as much white cream as you can without incorporating too much of the actual coconut milk.
- Using an electric mixer, whip the cream on high speed until it becomes light and airy, mimicking the texture of traditional whipped cream.
- Preheat your grill, putting all burners on high heat. This is going to be a very quick cooking process, just to warm and get grill marks.
- When grill is preheated, place the peaches and the pound cake down onto the grates. Close the lid and allow the grill to work its magic, approximately two to three minutes. It may smell like burning — that's good — it means char is occurring.
- Flip the peaches and the pound cake to char the other side. Be careful with the peaches and don't force them off the grill before they're ready. They'll pull lightly away from the grill grates when a char is apparent. If they stick after more than four minutes, delicately scrape them from the grates with a metal spatula in an attempt to preserve your grill marks.
- Remove the peaches and pound cake from the grill and prepare to plate
- On a plate, place the pound cake with the best char side facing upward. On top of that, place a charred peach slice (or two!). Top that with the coconut whipped cream and dust with the cinnamon. Photograph and serve.