If you think about it, isn’t it strange that we’ve nominated pie as our iconic summer dessert? Do understand, I say this as someone who frequently daydreams about going around the country and teaching people to make pie with a bare minimum of fuss, because I think the only thing standing between you and someone who effortlessly throws pies together because you heard someone was coming over is someone talking you through it once or twice… But I will also fully admit: pie is a pest. It requires very cold fat to be carefully worked into a floury mix until the pieces are exactly the right size. Too small, your crust is flat and crunchy. Too big, butter pools out and burns, leaving sad, tough flakes for crust. Too warm, the bits go small and absorb into the flour. Too cold, good luck rolling it out! And before you even know if the trouble will be worth it, you’ve got to roll out your crust with no holes or tears or your fruit filling will leak through and permanently glue pie-to-pan. And the fruit! Too thick, your pie cuts freakishly like Jell-O; too thin, it spills out everywhere, leaving a hollow crust in its wake. And don’t even get me started on lattice-tops. They’re for really sick people.
Given all of these high stakes, it’s a wonder we don’t all spend our summers exclusively extolling the virtues of fruit crisps and crumbles because they’re pie’s laid-back, easy-breezy sibling, the one whose arrival always brings applause. They give you nothing to carefully roll out; you just messily sprinkle the so-called “crust” over the top of the fruit, which can be thickened or not at all because if you’re not slicing it, who cares if it slumps? (And if the thought of fruit that sighs and puddles out onto a plate isn’t more appealing to you than fruit that stands up straight when you slice it, well, I beg to differ.) And the fat! Instead of asking butter to do the thing it would very least like to do on a hot day — that is, to try to stay cold — you begin by melting it.
The problem is that crumbles and crisps, when you get down to it, are really just cookie toppings. They’ve got the flour and the sugar, the pinch of salt and butter. Sometimes a little cinnamon, sometimes some oats or chopped nuts. If they were a cookie, they’d be the kind you roll out only so you could flood with colorful iced decorations — passably tasty but never, ever the first thing someone would order off a menu. (Unless it were these. Because, seriously.)
So, I got to thinking about what other cookies I’d rather dunk in a bubbling, glurping pan of baked summer fruit and when I considered pecan sandies, that was it. There was nothing to discuss. The idea of crumbling them over my peaches this weekend instead of the usual neutral cookie blend became suddenly, obviously ridiculous and I found the wait between then and telling you all about it unbearable. As in, how could I ever go back to making traditional crumbles now? (I cannot. I will not.)
I didn’t use just any pecan sandies recipe as my jumping off point, but the one I’ve shared previously on this site. Ingredient-wise, it doesn’t look much different from any other recipe out there. But in a single step — toasting those pecans until they’re dark brown on the outside, and light beige within — changes everything. Your home will be fragrant with toasted pecan oil, which is like a cross between brown butter and vanilla beans and maybe the kind of cask you would age bourbon in, in short: some sort of Smitten Kitchen heaven. Your peaches will have a little bit of everything that flatters them — sugar, lemon, nutmeg, cinnamon — but not so much that it ever upstages them. And together, well, we’re all going to be decidedly Team Crumble this July 4th, and all will be as it should.
Adieu, Google Reader: [Last announcement!] Google Reader will be shutting down at the end of the day, forever. More than 250,000 of you subscribe to the site through Google Reader, and I think it would be a huge bummer if you missed out on everything I hope to share here this summer (popsicles! sandwich slaw! mini-pies! the best barbecue chicken, ever! picnic mega-sandwiches! grilled bacon!) because of it. What can you do? 1. Google makes it very easy to download your Reader data through Google Takeout and all alternative readers make it a cinch to upload this file to import your settings. 2. But why fuss? Two alternative readers I’ve been checking out since the announcement was made, Bloglovin‘ and Feedly (and I’d argue that no reader is working harder to adopt Google Reader dumpees than Feedly!) make it even easier, letting you skip this step entirely by prompting you to ask if it can import your Google Reader feeds the moment you set up an account. Additional considerations, recommended by readers, are The Old Reader (closest, as its name suggests, to the way Google Reader once looked) and Digg Reader. All are so gorgeous and intuitive to use, you won’t be missing your retired Reader for a minute.
One year ago: Chopped Salad with Feta, Lime and Mint and a Flag Cake
Two years ago: Skirt Steak with Bloody Mary Tomato Salad
Three years ago: Zucchini and Ricotta Galette and Sour Cherry Pie with Almond Crumble
Four years ago: Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes and Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Five years ago: Zucchini Strand Spaghetti
Six years ago: Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake and Everyday Yellow Dal
Peach and Pecan Sandy Crumble
This crumble is a mash-up between a standard peach crumble and pecan sandies cookies. You’ll get the best pecan flavor here by toasting your nuts as deeply as you can get away with; keeping a close eye on them and not just relying on a set time will be the best way to pull this off. As is my preference, this is not a very sweet dessert; the topping is moderately sweet and the fruit base is still pretty tart with only 1/2 cup sugar for 4 pounds of fruit. Use 3/4 cup if you like a more traditional sweet-tart crumble and double it if you like sweet pies. If serving this with vanilla ice cream, as we did, however, the tartness that comes from 1/2 cup sugar will play off the sweet vanilla dreamily.
This makes a large crumble, ideal for a crowd of 12 to 15 (if served petitely). You can halve it and bake it in an 8×8, 9×9 or other 2-quart baking dish.
Pecan sandy topping
1 cup raw pecans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons coarse sugar, such as Turbinado or Sugar in the Raw; use granulated if you have neither
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or you can use bourbon; I’ll never tell)
3 1/2 to 4 pounds peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A couple pinches of salt
Make topping: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts out in one layer on a baking sheet and bake them, stirring occasionally, until they are well browned, 10 to 13 minutes (they will smell toasted and nutty but keep an eye on them towards the end so yours do not burn). Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.
In a food processor, coarsely chop 1/4 cup of cooled pecans, then set them aside in a small dish. Put remaining pecans (3/4 cup) in food processor along with about one-quarter of your flour (you can eyeballs this) and grind the nuts until they’re as powdery as possible. Add the remaining flour, powdered sugar, coarse sugar, salt, baking powder and pulse the machine two or three times, just to combine. Transfer dry mixture a bowl and add melted butter and vanilla. Stir this together until small and large clumps form, then stir in coarsely chopped pecans. Refrigerate until needed.
Make filling: Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Halve and pit your peaches, then cut them into chunks, smaller if they’re firm, large ones if the peaches are already soft. In the bottom of 3- to 4-quart (a 9×13, such as a deep lasagna pan, works here) works fine here) ovenproof baking dish, toss the peach chunks with sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping. Bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling and begins to creep up over the topping a little, about 40 to 50 minutes. If your topping browns too much before this happens (this doesn’t happen in my oven, but just in case) you can cover the top with foil until it is done baking.
Let cool slightly before serving, ideally with vanilla ice cream.