The Perfect Quatre-Quarts: In Praise of Kitchen Scales
It began with a half-bushel of round, ripe, yellow peaches that a friend brought back from a family farm in Maryland and deposited on my kitchen doorstep. I ate a few, and then a few more, standing over the kitchen sink, the juices dripping down my arms. They were so ripe the skins lifted off with a gentle tug from a table knife and so delicious, so delicious, so delicious I hardly know where to begin to describe the flavor, the aroma, the sensation in my mouth. Peaches are the very definition of seasonal fruit—you cannot enjoy them except ripe from the orchard. The so-called “peaches” we find in our markets the rest of the year are hard round croquet balls by comparison—and they taste like it too.
But once the initial greed was sated, what to do with the rest of the magnificent bunch? My Facebook appeal was met with a variety of responses, some hopelessly complex (“make a lemony glaze with rosemary and peperoncino,” advised a friend in Umbria), some suspiciously simple (“cuppa sugar, cuppa flour, cuppa milk,” topped with peaches and baked). But Gabriella Becchina, who lives on a gorgeous olive oil estate in southern Sicily (her family makes Olio Verde), intrigued me. “Why not,” she asked, “a simple quatre-quarts with sliced peaches sunk in the cake batter?”
Why not indeed? Quatre-quarts (four-quarters) is the French equivalent of English pound cake, or in Italian a plumcake (I’m not joking, that’s the Italian translation), i.e., an old-fashioned, dead-simple genoise sort of cake made by combining equal quantities of eggs, flour, sugar, and butter—or, in my case, extra-virgin olive oil, because I love the lightness and the flavor impact of an olive oil cake.
But those equal quantities are, alas, by weight, and there’s the rub. Fortunately, I have in my kitchen a handsome Polder kitchen scale, given me years ago as a birthday present. I don’t use it often—mostly because when I’m writing recipes I must do them in the cups and tablespoons that we Americans are used to. But if you’re going to make a proper quatre-quarts, or a pound cake for that matter, you must have a scale.
I made my version with those magnificent Maryland peaches, but later, as the season progresses, you could use late-summer plums, fall apples, or even pears. (If the latter, once cut, sprinkle them with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.) I add a little almond essence whenever I cook peaches—it brings out an important flavor in the fruit. With apples and pears, that’s unnecessary, but a little grated lemon zest wouldn’t be at all amiss. For olive oil, I use a rather bland and sweet oil, such as a taggiasca from Liguria or a nutty arbequina from Catalonia.
I’ve adjusted the recipe to account for those cooks who absolutely refuse to follow my lead with the kitchen scales, but those who are intrigued by the possibilities weighed measure provide will find plenty of kitchen scales on the internet. My Polder 11-Pound Kitchen Scale is available online for about $30.