I met my friend Robbie (hi, Rob!) when we spent the year in Israel together on a fellowship. I was 22 at the time, young and impressionable; he was 25, but he seemed so much older and wiser. He'd had jobs, lived in the big city, tasted life. He'd learned the challenges of living independently, the wonders of Greek food in Astoria, the secrets of dried fruit and nuts from Sahadi's. I knew about Barnard, the Upper West Side, and college graduation speakers; Robbie knew everything else.
In Israel, Robbie and I bonded over amazing raw honey at the shuk, which we ate out of the jar by the spoonful without an ounce of shame. We became bonafide experts in hummus, learning the nuances of the different packaged brands and the mind-blowing freshness and flavor of the homemade stuff. We ran through the back streets of Jerusalem, passed long, summer days on the beaches of Tel Aviv and Ashkelon, and became residents of the wonderful neighborhood of Talpiot. It was a good year. It was a special, formative year.
That's the year I realized I was serious about food. After our friend Naomi brought homemade granola on a trip, I started to obsess about what might have been in it, working methodically on my own recipe until it was just perfect. Robbie was good company to explore my new-found hobby. He had endless patience and curiosity for my home cooking. He was basically a vegetarian, primed to appreciate my mostly meatless diet. But perhaps most importantly, Robbie introduced me to Chowhound.
In 2005, Chowhound wasn't the comprehensive food site it is today. It was basically just a food forum, organized geographically, for the eating-obsessed. Robbie couldn't believe I'd never heard of it, and after sinking slowly into its stranglehold, I couldn't, either. Chowhound was amazing. Posters were perpetually fixated on one food item or another, waxing poetic and getting aggressive about where to find the best burger/madeleines/ancho-flavored chocolate/loose-leaf yerba mate/etc. I quickly got hooked.
Chowhound didn't have a recipe section, but occasionally, individual posters would be inspired to share their favorites. One such poster, Galley Girl, posted a basic recipe for a pear tart she got from her friend Laurie. The tart is more like a cake, really. It's so simple, it looks like 100 cakes you've made before. And, at the same time: it's totally, utterly, unforgettable.
On the boards of Chowhound, this tart is known as "Galley Girl's Pear Tart." Among Hounds, it's famous. Like I said, it's more of a cake than a tart. It's a dead-simple butter batter, and it absolutely MUST be topped with the ripest fruit you can get your hands on. The cake is nothing if the fruit isn't ripe.
It was a pear tart, and indeed, the buttery cake recipe has no better pairing. But in summer, when pears are scarce but peaches are at their prime, you can make it this way with lovely results. Since, as you may recall, I hate peach fuzz, I used nectarines.
It's been a while since Robbie and I lived in Israel. I've gotten married; he has, too, and he has an adorable baby boy whom I'm determined to meet one of these days. (R&K -- I'm coming to visitl!) Chowhound also has grown up: it has a shiny new site, all sorts of new features, and many, many more posters. But I'll always be indebted to Galley Girl, to the old school Hounds, and to Robbie, my dear friend, who indulged my obsessive side and helped me realize how much I love food. If I'd known then how good Galley Girl's tart is, I'd have made it for Robbie to thank him.
Galley Girl's Peach TartAdapted from Galley Girl's Pear Tart, originally on Chowhound
This tart is best when baked in an 8" springform. I don't have a pan that size, but following another poster's instructions, I've made 1 1/2 times the recipe in a 9" springform and an 8" square pan. Regardless of which pan and proportions you use, you must watch the thing carefully and make sure not to overbake it.
Ingredients: 3 very ripe, very juicy peaches or nectarines (in winter, use the pears she calls for in the original recipe), peeled (if peaches or pears) and cut into eighths 1 stick butter 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 eggs 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully combined. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and mix on low speed or by hand just until combined. Do not overmix.
Grease an 8" springform pan generously with butter. If you only have a 9" springform or an 8" square pan, you need to make 1 1/2 times this recipe so the cake comes out properly.
Spread the cake batter into the pan, smooth with a knife to level the surface, and press sliced fruit into the cake. Press in as many as you can fit; don't be shy. Sprinkle a bit more sugar overtop.
Bake at 350 degrees until a skewer comes out clean. This can take as long as 1 hour, but start checking at 40 minutes; as Galley Girl says, this cake is a whole other thing if you overbake it...and not in a good way.
This cake is delicious the day of, but it's also great the next day. It's a snacking cake, if snacking cakes are your thing. I like to serve it for dessert after big meals. It's a humble, simple cake, but in my opinion, it really can't be beat. I had a piece right out of the oven, and while it practically burned a hole in my napkin, it was worth every tongue-scorching bite.