Tuesday, June 28, 2011

.peachy keen.

with summer thick in the air, there are so many opportunities for gatherings, picnics, and barbecues. if you're looking to share a light, simple sweet treat that is sure to be a crowd pleaser, you may want to try these peach shortbread bars.

when i bite into a peach, it is like taking a hunk of sunshine with a juicy splash that comes across refreshing every time. peaches have a unique ability to be both cooling in the hot summers and warming in the cool autumns. what a practical fruit! i found the recipe i wanted to test and tweak at smittenkitchen.com and here it is:

1 cup (7 ounces or 200 grams) white sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (12 5/8 ounces or 359 grams) cups all-purpose flour (or you can measure 3 cups and remove 2 tablespoons flour)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces or 227 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)

Brown your butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly. Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

this particular recipe had the butter do something a little more special than its usual role of either room temperature or cold yellowness. this time, the butter was changed into something a little more demure, brown. with browning the butter, it brought out a nutty, flavorful taste to this staple ingredient in baking.

unlike more powerful players such as chocolate or peanut butter or strawberry, this delicate shortbread base boasted an understated flavor delight. since i was a little girl, shortbread cookies were often my first choice over others and it looks my palette still has a special spot for it.

the recipe asked for an 'in between' fraction of a cut for the thickness (or thinness if you will) of the peach slices and i must admit something. oh, i love fractions. now, did i precisely measure each time i made a cut? um, give me a little credit here. however, i did daydream about fractions while i absentmindedly cut the peaches into as thin slices as i could manage.

with my bottom layer pressed into place and the peaches all neatly lined up for the second layer, it was time to add the shortbread crumble topping. rather than sticking to a top version that is exactly the same as the bottom of the bar, i decided to jazz it up a little. so, i added about 1/3 cup of brown sugar and a dash more of cinnamon to make up the perfect crumble topping. with all three layers ready to bake, the waiting began.

once the bars had come out and cooled, i cut them into quadrilaterals (not a rhombus which was quite a debate at the dinner table). house of nerds? yes.

each bite was layered with comfort and a smidgeon of sweet summer.

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