Monday, June 8, 2009

Brown Butter Peach Bars

Summer must be here. It's not the 90 degree days or the kids being out of school for vacation that tells me so. Nor is it the fact that I can't get enough of sauvignon blanc right now (eventually, I'm just going to have to attach an IV drip, I think). You know how I know? Peaches. Glorious, juice dripping, soft fuzzy peaches.

My dad stopped by the farmer's market last week and bought his standard amount of peaches: a whole bushel. He always graciously shares the peaches and I ended up with just about 2 pounds of peaches. Hot damn. It's almost as good as winning the lottery.

Immediately I thought I would make a peach pie. So, I decided to give a new pie crust recipe a whirl, but when I opened up my recipe folder to find a new crust recipe, I came across this little gem. The words "brown butter" immediately grabbed my attention. Remember how I fell in love with browned butter? Sadly, my affair with browned butter was merely a fling. But after seeing this recipe, I knew we were destined for a little re-do action. (The fact that my relationship with browned butter is similiar to my other people's relationships with past boyfriends/flings is merely a coincidence, I assure you).

This recipe is everything you want in a fruit bar. It's tangy and sweet. It's soft with a crumbly, yet firm crust. And it absolutely must be made the day before... It needs time to sit and soften up. Again there's a similiarity there with old flames, eh? But, that's where the similiarities end. While you want the reignition of the old flame to be quick and easy... these bars certainly are not. Proceed with this recipe, just like you do with your old flames, my friends... with extreme caution. Cause trust me, you'll wind up out of 3 hours of your life and 3 pounds heavier .

But... sometimes, it's worth it.

Brown Butter Peach Bars
Recipe from New York Times, adapted from Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur, CA

Seriously, this recipe is excellent, but it is a time consumer. It's not something you can whip up in an hour, or two, or three. There are multiple parts involved, so read through the recipe and be prepared. Also, like I said before, make these bars the day before you're going to serve them. They definitely need time to sit and soften.

I would make a change to the recipe for next time. The entire recipe calls for a crapload of orange zest. I would scale back. I'd use the orange zest and juice of 1 orange for the jam and the zest of one orange for the filling. Cutting the amount of oranges you need in half. I liked the citrus-y zip you get in the recipe, but I felt like it masked the fresh peach flavor a bit too much.

For the jam:
1 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
½ vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
4 cups ½ inch diced, peel-on, peaches (about 2 pounds whole)

For the crust:
1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 ½ cups flour

For the filling:
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
½ vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter.

1. Make the jam: in a 3 quart pot and using a wooden spoon, mix together the sugar, orange zest and juice, and vanilla bean and seeds. Place a candy thermometer in the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, until it reaches 220 degrees. Add the peaches and boil, stirring occasionally, until the peaches turn into a thick jam and the thermometer returns to 220 degrees, 35 to 45 minutes. Wear long oven mitts as the jam can splatter. (When the jam begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, it's nearly there). Transfer the jam to a wide pan to cool. Remove the vanilla bean.

2. Prepare the crust by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Cook until the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve set over a heatproof container. Freeze until solid.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the confectioner's sugar and flour. Scoop the chilled brown butter into the flour mixture and, using a pastry cutter, blend until crumbly. Transfer the crumb mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and firmly pat it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the crust until golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool.

4. Make the filling: whisk together the eggs, sugar, zest and flour in a large bowl. Place the vanilla bean and seeds and the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty, and then strain through a fine sieve. Carefully add the brown butter to the egg and flour mixture, whisking until the butter is incorporated. Remove the vanilla bean.

5. To assemble the bars, spread half of the filling over the baked crust. Spoon large dollops of the peach jam over the filling, reserving a quarter of the jam. Pour the remaining brown butter filling over the peach jam, and finish by spooning smaller dollops of the reserved jam over the top. Bake until the filling is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Makes 24 bars.