We go to a lot of potlucks. And lucky for us, most of the time there is a pretty diverse selection of food that arrives in the arms of our cohorts, friends, neighbors and the like. Of course there is the occasional dinner of tortilla chips, salsa and apple pie, but no one seems to complain…I, for one, totally vote yes to apple pie for dinner anytime. And usually the next event’s bounty makes up for the imbalance. But there is certainly an art to potluck fare, and perhaps some of us just innately understand that and some don’t. Rule number one is to bring something. Rule number two is to bring something that you have made yourself that has some flavor…salt and seasoning are good things. And rule number three (there can always be more rules, but I’ll limit my potluck regulations here to three) is, in the event of a time shortage that makes it necessary for you to just pick something up at the store on your way, make it something interesting. Don’t just bring a bag of chips. Why not a good cheese that you haven’t tried before with some fancy crackers or seasonal fruit? Or if the drive from the store isn’t too far, what about bringing some ice cream and a package of cones? That would probably make you the most popular person of the day.
Being a baker, my mind wanders to a dessert contribution upon accepting a potluck invitation. But I also tend to desire simplicity and ease of preparation. Most of us don’t have the time, energy or inclination to devote to making multiple stepped recipes for a potluck, and why should we? That’s the beauty of the potluck, to allow for equity of labor so that we can have fun on a random weeknight. It’s about community and sharing a meal, not slaving over something to prove your skills and make yourself stressed out. Save the gateau de crepes for a really special occasion.
I’m so happy to have found not one, but two new cake recipes in the last month that are perfect for potlucks, or really for any impromptu purpose. They both are easily adaptable to any season since they feature fruit and come together with just a few ingredients that you most likely have lying around. The first is an upside down cake, originally using ground almonds and apricots, but I’m envisioning pistachios and figs or even ground coconut and pineapple. I made it for my daughter’s first birthday using hazelnuts and figs and it was pretty great. Us grownups topped it with whiskey spiked whipped cream. The second cake, actually called a Kuchen, is an easy two-egg base that can be topped with pretty much any cut up fruit. I swayed from the original plums and subbed in pears and it was awesome. Cherries, peaches, anything would be great. And what I love best about both cakes is the room for seasonality. I look around at the heaping bowls on the counter and decide from that. “Use it up!” I say!
Apricot Almond Upside-Down Cake
(Adapted from Sweet Times at Emandal)
1/2 cup brown sugar
8-10 fresh apricots, figs or plums, halved or quartered depending on size
2/3 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup nuts of your choice, finely ground
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 9-inch cake pan. Scatter the brown sugar on the bottom of the pan, patting it into a thin, even layer. Arrange the fruit, cut side up, in concentric circles until the pan is filled.
In a bowl or mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the ground nuts until combined, then the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add extracts. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt, then fold into the egg mixture just until blended.
Pour the batter over the fruit arranged in cake pan. Spread evenly, being careful not to disturb the placement of the fruit. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch, beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
(adapted from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 cups pitted, thickly sliced stone fruit or pears
Juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter, in bits
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 10-inch spring-form pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream or yogurt and extracts. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder, then fold into the egg mixture just until combined.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan. Arrange the sliced fruit in a spiral, starting in the center and moving out, to cover the surface of the cake. Drizzle the lemon juice and sugar, then dust with cinnamon and dot with the butter bits. Bake until the fruit releases its juices and the cake is browned on top, about 35 minutes. Cool well before removing from the pan. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Serves 6-8.