September 5, 2011 § 8 Comments
This is going to be another short one as it’s been a long full weekend and I’m pretty beat. We spent the last couple of days exploring Portland, Maine with friends. It was wonderfully fun, with an abundance of walking, chatting, laughing, and eating.
At home now, I’ve spent the evening avoiding the work I need to get done for tomorrow morning by watching the sparrows. They’re diving and swooping and snatching bugs right in an easy line of sight. When swallows are flying low like that, it means that a storm is coming, or so they say.
The early mornings have been tinged with fall the past week. Cool enough to give you a few goosebumps, but still without any teeth to it. And my, the morning and evening light has been making itself scarce. No longer do we finish up dinner in full sunlight. But, this weekend summer elbowed its way back in to remind us that it’s not leaving yet. Hot and muuuugggy.
And these last dog days of summer (I still don’t really understand that expression. Is it referring to dogs lazing about in the sun?) are yielding up glorious produce with gusto. Right now it’s peaches. A sure sign of bounty, all fuzzy and rosy with their tangerine yellow insides that squirt and dribble juice down your front when you bite in.
The best thing to do with a peach is to rinse and eat it, standing over the sink. We all know that. But, the second best thing to do with a peach – or more accurately, with a small load of peaches – is whip’em up into a pie, a cobbler, or a crisp, and then wander on over to the neighbor’s where you’ll be a most welcome guest.
This peach crisp is a plain old honest peach crisp in most ways. No bells or whistles, tassels, fringe, frills, lace or anything unnecessary to distract from the goodness of plain peaches within. Except a little spoonful of cornstarch to thicken up the juices. You want syrupy, not soupy.
But, the topping is something else. It’s hard to screw up a crisp topping too badly, as long as you rub together some brown sugar with flour and butter. The proportions have to be close, but not exact. You can use oats or no, nuts or no, brown sugar or even white, and I’ve been known to swap out some of the butter for olive oil in a pinch. Not screwing up the topping is one thing, but, if you so choose, you can also take the topping to the next level.
That’s where this one comes in. Instead of a sandy crumble, this topping is made with a dough that’s almost a shortbread or a sweet tart crust. It crisps up all golden on top while the bottom stays soft – the good kind of soft – and almost melts in to the top of the fruit. It’s an idea blatantly borrowed from a bakery near us that carries mini pies that we like to go get some weekends after a long bike ride. But, I also threw in a little (sprouted in my case) barley flour for heft and nutiness and browned the butter. I started by melting the butter, and as I was melting it realized – as others have realized before me – if I’m going to melt butter, I may as well brown it. After a brief stint in the fridge (also like a shortbread) you crumble the dough, over your glistening peaches, then bake it until bubbling and browned.
Sure enough, my neighbors were open to a visitor. And, by the time dessert was over, they were making me promise I’d be back soon. With more peach crisp. And, for as long as summer is sticking around, I’m game.
Peach Crisp with Brown Butter Crumble (serves 4-6)
- 1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. barley flour (or whole wheat – the sprouted versions work too)
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 6-8 peaches (around 1 1/2 lb.), pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
- 1 Tbs. corn starch and another pinch of salt
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then let it continue cooking, stirring and scraping up the browning bits from the bottom until the butter has become chestnut brown and smells nutty. Pour it immediately into a mixing bowl and set aside in the fridge to cool.
- In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and pinch of salt.
- After the butter has cooled about 10 minutes, whisk in the sugars until smooth. Then, whisk in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until fully combined. Stick this dough in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime you can peel the peaches.
- You can go through the rigamarole of dipping the peaches in a pot of boiling water, then cold, then peeling them, but since this isn’t so many peaches, I just split them, pit them, cut them into slices and peel each slice.
- Toss the peach slices with the cornstarch and a pinch of salt. If your peaches are good and ripe, you shouldn’t need any extra sugar, but if they are a little on the tart side, you can toss them with a couple Tbs. brown sugar too.
- Preheat the oven to 375F. Put the peach slices into an 8-inch square baking pan or a 9-inch pie pan. Crumble the cold topping in nice chunks all over the top.
- Bake the crisp in the oven for around 35-40 minutes, until the crisp topping is browned and the peaches are bubbling. Remove to the cooling rack and allow to cool until room temperature or a little warmer. Serve plain or topped with whipped cream or ice cream.