Saturday, September 17, 2011

Six Pounds of Ripe Organic Peaches

It's Thursday before Labor Day. Our plans for Monday are a BBQ for 8, and I am bringing the dessert. Naturally, it needs to be pie with homemade ice cream. Naturally, the pie needs to be peach, because they are at their most delectable in Washington right now. Naturally, when you buy them by the crate, you end up with way more than you need for one pie for 8 people. What to do??

I let the peaches ripen for an extra day on their own, and launched into them full-force Saturday morning with a peach coffee cake for our breakfast.

On Sunday for dinner with another couple, I was at more of a loss... cake or cupcakes would be too similar to the coffee cake, a tart could be tasty, but with the pie for Monday would mean two batches of pastry crust. Maybe use a crumb crust instead? The balsamic custard was really delicious, but I really wanted new inspiration, which I finally found from Michelle at Brown Eyed Baker. She tried a pavlova for the first time, and I decided to do the same.

A pavlova is an almost limitless combination of meringue, topped with whipped cream, topped with fresh fruit. Other bloggers and authors have waxed on about the divine sensations this creates for the mouth, which I will skip except to say that it is very tasty. (I thought this post summed it up well, though the photos are a bit of a detraction.)

I discussed ambivalence toward meringue in my angel-food cake post, but pavlova seemed an appropriate way to counter such feelings as it's drenched whipped cream and delicious fruit. I found it especially appealing that there are so many opportunities for creativity by altering the recipe for the base, for the filling, or for the topping. I believe the original/traditional Pavlova is plain meringue, vanilla whipped cream, and fresh strawberries. I knew my version would be with peaches, so I started to think of how else to spice it up. Peaches and cardamom are a classic combination, so I googled "peach cardamom pavlova" and came to this post. While his photos are mouth-watering, I found the recipe itself lacking, but I had what I needed to put together my own perfect pavlova.

I incorporated the pistachios directly into the meringue. I followed this recipe but ground the nuts and powdered sugar together in the food processor until they were very fine, instead of just chopped. Pile the meringue on the baking sheet as high as you can get it - a couple inches if possible. Mine were only about 3/4 inch high, and while I like mine nice and crispy and not too uncooked in the center, it makes for a much less dramatic presentation if they are short and flat. For the filling, I brought one cup of cream to a boil with 5 crushed whole cardamom pods, and allowed to steep in the fridge overnight, before straining and whipping to soft peaks with one tablespoon light brown sugar. For the fruit, I sliced 1/2 peach per serving and tossed with just a splash of peach schnapps and a bit of brown sugar. Lastly for garnish, I candied some nuts (just saute a handful over medium heat in a saucepan with 1 teaspoon water and a couple teaspoons white sugar until nuts are toasted and glazed.) Layer them together and you have an exotically-scented crispy creamy smooth juicy sweet concoction. So sorry I don't have a photo!

Labor Day itself was pure peach pie. This is my previously tested recipe for peach pie and the crust is very easy to work with but not as flakey as I sometimes prefer. I kept the filling recipe the same though I probably used closer to 4 pounds of peaches (5 large) and didn't scale back the other ingredients. I would say we had 10 generous servings from this pie, and 5 pounds of peaches split between only 8 people as the recipe suggests would be... well, let's just a say, "American."

I know I am letting down readers with my photography - this is a photo of the
unbaked pie. The finished pie was perfectly golden and slices held together
even with loads of peaches melting out the sides. Be sure to serve with ice cream!

With another batch of delicious peaches, I made a peach crumb bar based on this recipe, with my modifications below. They were good, but I didn't love them. I thought they were a bit too oatey even though I cut back on what the recipe said, and even though the peaches themselves were perfectly ripe and flavorful, I didn't think the streusel topping was sweet enough in spite of how much sugar I added (though it was better with some sweet vanilla ice cream!) Also, though she called them "bars" they were too soft to eat like a cookie. Which was fine - we covered them with ice cream anyway, but they were definitely a fork-dessert.

Peach Streusel
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats, divided

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (add more?)3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
5 large peaches (about 3 pounds) peeled and chopped - I slice into 1/2" wedges and then cut crosswise in thirds
squeeze of lemon (to retard browning)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9" pan with foil.
In a food processor, combine flour, 1 cup oats, brown sugar, butter, baking soda, salt, and spices. Process until finely ground and small clumps form. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup oats and process just until combined, but so some oats are still whole.
Press 1/2 of crumb mixture firmly onto bottom of pan. Mix almonds into remaining crumb mixture.
Combine peaches with lemon juice, and spread over crust. Sprinkle with almond-crumb mixture.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into squares, and serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Refridgerate leftovers. I put some in the freezer, and they held-up fine... the base gets a little soft, but not soggy, and you can wrap in foil and rewarm in the oven or toaster oven (about 8 minutes in the toaster at 350).

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