Saturday, August 29, 2015
Martha & Me - August
This month, I tried another recipe for my Martha & Me challenge - Peach Pie Crumble Bars, from the July/August issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine (click the link to see the recipe on Martha's site). I had hoped to try something else too, but August was a busy month and to be honest, this issue of the magazine was a bit lean on interesting ideas. In July, I had made Strawberry Shortcake Sundaes, which we all loved, and I think they were the most interesting recipe in this issue. But these peach pie crumble bars looked really good too and I liked that they used just a few ingredients and a very simple technique.
Do you love peaches as much as I do? I try to eat one every day during the summer. Peaches, along with strawberries and watermelon, are my must-have fruits in the summer. I've always loved them, but never more than during both of my pregnancies, which both reached their third trimester in the summer. Then, I was an unstoppable fruit-gobbler. Fruit was the only thing I can really say I craved in pregnancy. It could be much worse, I know. Anyway, summertime = fruit for me, pregnant or otherwise, and peaches are at their best in August, so I looked forward to trying this recipe then.
These bars are meant to combine the best parts of eating peach pie. You have a lightly-sweet pastry crust on the bottom, then a layer of peaches prepared in the usual pie-filling style, with a sandy, crumbly topping made from the same dough used in the bottom layer. The dough is fast to make; just cream together butter and sugar, then beat in flour and coarse salt until the mixture is like coarse crumbs. Then press most of it into a parchment-lined square baking pan and reserve the rest for later. Easy-peasy.
The recipe called for 1 1/4 pounds of peaches, or 3 1/2 cups of cut-up fruit. I find these types of measurements really confusing when working with fruits or vegetables in a recipe. I'm not good at estimating the weight of a thing just by holding it in my hand, nor do I really know how much a typical example of a food should weigh. I used my digital kitchen scale to figure out that I needed 3 large peaches plus a little more; I had an overripe one that I used part of, then slurped the rest down the hatch (omgsoooogood).
The peach filling is prepared just as for a regular pie. Dice the peaches, combine in a bowl with flour, sugar, lemon juice and salt (I left the salt out of the filling because I'd used salted butter - it's the only kind I keep on hand - in the pastry. It seemed like too much salt, and later, when reading the comments on the online version of the recipe, I saw complaints about saltiness. I'm glad I didn't use any salt in this step). After mixing, the peach mixture is spooned evenly over the pastry base in the pan.
Finally, the reserved pastry mixture is crumbled over the peach layer. You literally just pick up handfuls of pastry and squeeze them to make big crumbly chunks and spread them evenly over the pan. I enjoyed this part, though I have to admit that it reminded me of the horrors of Moon Sand, which I'd banned from my home almost as soon as I'd unwittingly purchased it as the earnest first-time mother of a toddler. At least this would taste better than Moon Sand (don't ask).
The bars smelled amaaaaazing while they baked! Oh my. It was a thick, concentrated, nectar-like sweet-peach scent. Like a scratch-n-sniff peach sticker! I think the smell was stronger than regular peach pie because the fruit was more exposed as it baked. We were all going nuts while it was in the oven, pretty much salivating all over the kitchen. It had to cool for a while before I could slice it, or even pull it out of the pan, using the parchment sides as "handles"; I could see and feel the whole thing buckling and I was afraid it would fall apart. So I left it for a couple of hours, until it was barely warm, before removing it. Then I let it cool a few minutes longer on a cutting board, then I sliced it into sixteen bars with a big chef's knife.
Everyone clamored for a bar as soon as they were ready to eat. They were fantastic. The bottom crust was crisp, with a flavor and texture similar to a shortbread cookie. The fruit was moist, pinky-gold, sweet and a little gooey, and the crumble topping was streusel-like, soft and crunchy at the same time. I loved the saltiness, actually; that's one of my favorite things about a real pie, the salty-fatty pastry crust, especially the crisp, brown edge-of-the-edge. These bars did not last long around here; everyone liked them a lot. Martha suggests doing the same recipe with other fruits, such as berries or apples, depending on what is in season. I will definitely try other variations, starting with apples in a few weeks. This recipe is going in the easy-baking rotation for sure.